DOE wants hydrogen-based “energy parks” at light water reactor sites

September 9, 2022, 12:07PMNuclear News

The Department of Energy is offering cost-shared funding that could lead to the demonstration of an “energy park” drawing 20–300 MW of thermal energy from a U.S. nuclear power plant under a funding opportunity amendment issued in August by the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy Light Water Reactor Sustainability (LWRS) program, in coordination with the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office.

The basics: A total of between $20 million and $40 million is available to support the design of the heat-extraction infrastructure needed use high-temperature steam from existing LWRs to produce hydrogen using high-temperature electrolysis (HTE). The deadline for applications under the final award cycle for the U.S. Industry Opportunities for Advanced Nuclear Technology Development Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) was extended to October 11 when the new funding was announced.

According to a description of the hydrogen-related funding, the opportunity is provided “in preparation for future scale-up of industrial use of nuclear energy.” The amendment distinguishes between the engineering and design work needed to extract steam from a nuclear power plant—termed “Nuclear Plant Thermal Integration”—and the multiple ways hydrogen produced from nuclear steam and electricity could be used—“Hydrogen-Coupled End Uses.”

Thermal integration: Projects funded under Nuclear Plant Thermal Integration could include front-end engineering and design (FEED) studies for nuclear plant thermal energy extraction, distribution, and control at 20–300 MWt levels and should include HTE designs and an analysis of construction costs to demonstrate economic viability.

“FEED studies may include infrastructure for distribution of hydrogen, electricity, heat, and other potential feedstocks or products near existing nuclear plants supporting development of an energy park based on nuclear energy and hydrogen,” the amendment explains. An energy park “could ultimately involve multiple end uses and revenue streams,” making “factors such as modularity, scalability, and flexibility” important considerations.

Funding is also available for license amendments and other regulatory and permitting requirements of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and other authorities that would be required to demonstrate the safety of thermal extraction infrastructure and associated hydrogen production and infrastructure.

End uses: The DOE wants to fund the development of scalable prototype systems that integrate nuclear-powered electrolysis with a specific end user, with a focus on cost-competitive applications that could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Nuclear-produced hydrogen is a significant part of the DOE’s Hydrogen Shot, a goal announced in June 2021 to lower the price of hydrogen from clean sources by 80 percent, to $1 per kilogram, within the decade. Because 1 kilogram of hydrogen has an energy content equivalent to 1 gallon of gasoline, hitting that price point could go a long way toward decarbonizing U.S. energy systems beyond the electric grid.

End-use applications identified in the funding amendment include transportation, such as heavy-duty hydrogen fuel cell applications or drop-in/synthetic fuels; power generation and energy storage; and/or industrial and chemical applications such as ammonia, metals, or oxygen utilization. At the prototype stage, hydrogen systems could be used to verify chemical conversion or manufacturing efficiencies, develop fully autonomous plant controls, or demonstrate technical and economic viability, according to the DOE.

Current projects: The DOE’s LWRS program has provided research and development support for nuclear-coupled HTE and low-temperature electrolysis (LTE), which requires only electricity from a power plant, through its H2@Scale program. In fact, the new funding opportunity specifically excludes research in low-temperature proton exchange membrane electrolyzers from funding, “as DOE is already supporting work in this area,” and instead signals a new emphasis on high-efficiency HTE.

Current projects to demonstrate hydrogen production at existing nuclear power plant sites through the DOE’s H2@Scale program are underway through partnerships with Arizona Public Service (APS), Constellation, Energy Harbor, and Xcel Energy.

  • At the three-unit Palo Verde site in the Arizona desert, APS will install an LTE skid, plus six metric tons of storage capacity, and supply hydrogen to a nearby gas peaking plant to produce about 200 MWh of electricity during times of high demand.
  • Constellation partnered with Nel Hydrogen and three national laboratories, including Idaho National Laboratory, under a separate H2@Scale project to install a 1-MW LTE unit at Nine Mile Point in upstate New York to begin producing 430 kg/day to meet the boiling water reactor’s turbine cooling and chemistry control needs.
  • Energy Harbor plans to produce commercial quantities of hydrogen from a 2-MW LTE skid at the Davis-Besse plant near Toledo, Ohio, in 2023.
  • Xcel Energy is the only utility with plans to draw steam as well as electricity from a nuclear plant in a test of HTE at Prairie Island in Minnesota that could produce 90 kg/day in late 2023 or early 2024.

Goodbye to the U.S. Industry Opportunities FOA: The DOE has been providing cost-shared funding under the U.S. Industry Opportunities for Advanced Nuclear Technology Development Funding Opportunity Announcement for five years. The FOA was established in late 2017 to “support innovation and competitiveness of the U.S. nuclear industry through cost-shared basic/fundamental, applied R&D, and demonstration/commercial applications R&D activities for all aspects of existing and advanced reactor development,” and was divided into three pathways: First of a Kind Nuclear Demonstration Readiness Projects, Advanced Reactor Development Projects, and Regulatory Assistance Grants.

According to FOA documentation, “Due to funding limitations, DOE will not execute additional cycles in FY 2022. . . . Analysis and planning for follow-on engagements between NE and United States Industry is underway and outcomes will be communicated separately.”

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