It's Hydrogen Day: Time to celebrate a growth year for nuclear-produced H2

October 7, 2022, 9:31AMNuclear News

Tomorrow, 10/08, is Hydrogen Day, in recognition of the atomic weight of hydrogen: 1.008. Newswire first covered Hydrogen Day in 2021 after the Department of Energy announced its Hydrogen Shot goal to lower the price of clean hydrogen by 80 percent, to $1 per kilogram, within the decade. Now, backed by industry partnerships, new legislation, an eye-popping $7 billion in federal funds for regional clean hydrogen hubs (H2Hubs), a new draft strategy, and on-site progress to pair electrolyzers with nuclear plants, the potential for nuclear-powered production of clean hydrogen is clearer than ever.

Hydrogen, now and later: The United States already uses about 10 million metric tons of hydrogen annually, but because that hydrogen is largely produced from natural gas without carbon capture and storage, it’s not particularly clean. In 2021, 55 percent of the nation’s hydrogen was used in petroleum refining, 35 percent in the chemical industry for the production of ammonia and methanol, 2 percent in metals processing, and 8 percent for other uses. That’s according to the DOE’s National Clean Hydrogen Strategy and Roadmap, released in September in draft form.

In addition to serving the petrochemical and fertilizer industries, hydrogen has the potential to store energy to improve grid reliability and to fuel zero-emissions ships, airplanes, trucks, and buses. There are already more than 50,000 hydrogen-powered, zero-emissions forklifts moving goods in warehouses, according to the DOE.

But effectively decarbonizing industrial and transportation sectors with hydrogen requires clean hydrogen, and that requires the cost of clean hydrogen to drop. Because 1 kilogram of hydrogen has an energy content equivalent to 1 gallon of gasoline, hitting the Hydrogen Shot price point of $1/kg could go a long way toward decarbonizing U.S. energy systems beyond the electric grid. The DOE’s Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office (HFTO), in collaboration with the DOE Hydrogen Program, is bringing together DOE offices, including the Office of Nuclear Energy (DOE-NE), other government agencies, and stakeholders to reach that goal.

Nuclear energy could have a large role to play in reducing costs. As noted in the draft roadmap, “the levelized cost of hydrogen production is highly sensitive to the cost of electricity. Access to low-cost energy with a high capacity factor (e.g., through integration with existing nuclear power plants) can facilitate much lower levelized costs.”

New investments: The DOE opened the application process for its $7 billion H2Hubs program on September 22 to create networks of hydrogen producers, consumers, and local infrastructure. According to the DOE, at least one of the planned hydrogen hubs will use nuclear power to generate the hydrogen. The DOE expects to select six to 10 hubs. Concept papers are required by November 7, with full applications due by April 7, 2023.

In August, DOE-NE’s Light Water Reactor Sustainability (LWRS) program, in coordination with the HFTO, offered between $20 million and $40 million in cost-shared funding to support the demonstration of an “energy park” drawing 20–300 MW of thermal energy from a U.S. nuclear power plant. That funding would tackle the design of the heat-extraction infrastructure needed use high-temperature steam from existing LWRs to produce hydrogen using high-temperature electrolysis “in preparation for future scale-up of industrial use of nuclear energy.” Proposals were invited both for 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.”

Current projects: 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. Recent announcements confirm the projects are proceeding as planned.

  • 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, to install a 1-MW LTE unit at Nine Mile Point in upstate New York to meet the boiling water reactor’s turbine cooling and chemistry control needs. Constellation celebrated recent progress at the site in September, with planned production by the end of the year.
  • Energy Harbor plans to produce commercial quantities of hydrogen from a 2-MW LTE skid at the Davis-Besse plant near Toledo, Ohio. On September 13, the company announced the formation of Great Lakes Clean Hydrogen, a coalition with the University of Toledo, major industrial companies in the region, several DOE national laboratories, and others that is positioned to become a Hydrogen Hub.
  • Xcel Energy is currently the only nuclear utility with plans to draw steam as well as electricity from a nuclear plant in a test of high-temperature steam electrolysis at Prairie Island in Minnesota that could begin production in early 2024. Bloom Energy announced in September that it would provide the electrolyzer.

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