Clean hydrogen energy from nuclear power is having a good week

June 8, 2022, 12:00PMNuclear News
A depiction of an electrolyzer from Bloom Energy. (Photo: Bloom Energy)

Using nuclear power technology to produce clean hydrogen is getting a visibility boost as the Department of Energy hosts a virtual three-day (June 6–8) Annual Merit Review and Peer Evaluation Meeting on the agency’s efforts to accelerate clean hydrogen production. On June 6, the DOE announced a notice of intent (NOI) to fund the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s $8 billion program to develop regional clean hydrogen hubs (H2Hubs) and the launch of a new Hydrogen Shot Incubator Prize that seeks “disruptive technologies” to reduce the cost of clean hydrogen production. That same day, Westinghouse Electric Company and Bloom Energy Corp. (a maker of solid oxide electrolyzer technology) announced a letter of intent to develop electrolyzers for use in the commercial nuclear power market and said they are “well positioned to support the U.S. Department of Energy’s developing hydrogen hubs.”

Commercial investment: Westinghouse and Bloom plan to work together to optimize large-scale high-temperature electrolysis technology that can be integrated with a nuclear power plant.

“We are proud Westinghouse has turned to Bloom and our solid oxide technology to supercharge the clean hydrogen economy,” said Rick Beuttel, vice president of Bloom’s hydrogen business. “Solid oxide technology is well suited for nuclear applications, efficiently harnessing steam to further improve the economics of hydrogen production. High-temperature electrolysis is already garnering attention and accolades as a cost-effective and viable solution to create low-cost, clean hydrogen, which is critical to meeting aggressive decarbonization goals.”

Pam Cowan, president of Americas operating plant services at Westinghouse, said, “Through this collaboration, we are committed to delivering an economical solution for large-scale hydrogen production in the nuclear industry, which further supports the path to net-zero carbon emissions.”

Hydrogen hubs: The DOE’s H2Hubs will support the ongoing H2@Scale initiative by creating networks of hydrogen producers, consumers, and local infrastructure to promote the use of hydrogen as a clean energy carrier and to lower the cost of hydrogen production, transportation, storage, and usage. Per the law, at least one of the four or more planned hubs must use nuclear power to produce hydrogen.

Hydrogen has the potential to decarbonize sectors including heavy-duty transportation, steel manufacturing, and chemical plants. Today, the U.S. produces about 10 million metric tons of hydrogen annually, most of it so-called gray hydrogen produced from natural gas through steam methane reforming.

Electrolysis technology—which uses electricity to produce hydrogen from water—could produce hydrogen around the clock using electricity and steam heat inputs from nuclear power plants. Thanks to support from H2@Scale, pilot projects are already underway at several nuclear power plants: Arizona Public Service’s Palo Verde, Constellation’s Nine Mile Point, Energy Harbor’s Davis Besse, and Xcel Energy’s Prairie Island.

Clean hydrogen can also be produced using electricity from renewable sources or from fossil-fuel plants that use carbon capture and storage technologies. In 2021, the DOE launched the Hydrogen Shot to cut the cost of clean hydrogen from all sources to $1 per 1 kilogram of clean hydrogen in 1 decade.

“Hydrogen energy has the power to slash emissions from multiple carbon-intensive sectors and open a world of economic opportunity to clean energy businesses and workers across the country,” said energy secretary Jennifer Granholm on June 6. “These hydrogen hubs will make significant progress toward President Biden’s vision for a resilient grid that is powered by clean energy and built by American workers.”

The DOE will select hydrogen hub proposals that prioritize employment opportunities and address hydrogen feedstocks, end uses, and geographic diversity. The hubs will be supported by the DOE’s Office of Clean Energy Demonstration and Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office.

Prize money: The Hydrogen Shot Incubator Prize, with its $2.6 million in awards, was created to solicit “innovative concepts that produce clean, affordable hydrogen and address the Biden administration’s climate priorities.” It was first announced by Granholm in April as one measure in support of the DOE Hydrogen Program’s efforts to identify, develop, and test “disruptive technologies” to reduce the cost of clean hydrogen production.

The DOE is hosting an informational webinar on July 7 about the prize and how to participate. Submissions will be accepted until August 17.

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