Hydrogen production coming to Prairie Island

September 22, 2022, 6:55AMNuclear News
The Prairie Island nuclear power plant. (Photo: Xcel Energy)

Clean energy technology firm Bloom Energy has announced plans to install a 240-kW electrolyzer at Xcel Energy’s Prairie Island plant in Red Wing, Minn., to demonstrate the benefits of producing hydrogen with nuclear power. (One of Xcel’s two nuclear plants, Prairie Island houses twin 550-MWe pressurized water reactors.)

The aim of the demonstration, according to a Bloom Energy press release, is to “create immediate and scalable pathways to produce cost-efficient, clean hydrogen, supporting the growing hydrogen economy while enhancing value for operators of zero-carbon nuclear facilities.”

Engineering for the demonstration—one of four such pilot projects being cofunded through the Department of Energy’s H2@Scale initiative—is currently underway, with construction slated to begin in late 2023 and hydrogen production expected in early 2024.

The tech: So-called green hydrogen can be produced by low-carbon sources like nuclear energy, which can split H20 into its constituents, using electricity in the case of low-temperature electrolysis (LTE) or both electricity and steam as inputs for high-temperature electrolysis (HTE). While LTE is a proven technology, HTE promises greater efficiency when paired with light water reactors.

The solid-oxide Bloom electrolyzer produces hydrogen via HTE. According to the company, LTE alternatives require about 40 percent more electricity than does its device.

What they’re saying: “Xcel Energy has long championed what we at Bloom Energy know is true: Our net-zero future hinges on energy that’s not only clean but also resilient, accessible, and affordable,” said Rick Beuttel, vice president of Bloom Energy’s hydrogen business. “In today’s climate of extreme weather, fluctuating costs, and global energy insecurity, hydrogen offers unmatched potential to leverage existing infrastructure for clean, abundant energy. Combined with Xcel Energy’s nuclear infrastructure, Bloom Energy’s solid-oxide platform—which offers exceptional efficiency—can help us achieve our shared goal of an accessible net-zero future through low-cost, zero-carbon hydrogen.”

Peter Gardner, Xcel Energy’s senior vice president and chief nuclear officer, noted, “Xcel Energy’s nuclear power plants already play a vital role in our energy mix, delivering clean, reliable, and affordable power for our customers while avoiding hundreds of millions of tons of emissions. This project will provide a tremendous opportunity to better understand how our existing nuclear plants can contribute to the development of hydrogen technologies and build a carbon-free future.”

In case you missed it: On June 6, the DOE announced a notice of intent to fund the bipartisan infrastructure law’s $8 billion program to develop regional clean hydrogen hubs 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, Bloom Energy and Westinghouse Electric Company announced a letter of intent to develop electrolyzers for use in the commercial nuclear power market, saying that they are “well positioned to support the [DOE’s] developing hydrogen hubs.”

And last week, Akron, Ohio–based Energy Harbor—owner and operator of the Beaver Valley, Davis-Besse, and Perry nuclear plants and another participant in the H2@Scale program—announced that it is “joining forces with the University of Toledo, major industrial companies in the region, several DOE national laboratories, and others to form a new industry-led coalition, Great Lakes Clean Hydrogen, to transition the Midwest into a leading low-carbon fuel production center, attracting major investment, new businesses and job creation.”

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