|IAHE Nuclear Hydrogen Division
Nuclear energy will have a major role in large-scale low-cost production of hydrogen in the future. The mission of the IAHE Nuclear Hydrogen Division is to organize and promote activities that foster development of nuclear systems for hydrogen production, including thermochemical cycles, electrolysis, and related elements such as safety and materials science.
of the IAHE Nuclear Hydrogen Division
How is hydrogen currently produced?
The predominant existing processes use fossil fuels to produce hydrogen, such as steam methane reforming (SMR) or coal gasification. These are carbon-based technologies that lead to greenhouse gas emissions, and future costs of carbon capture and storage. A key challenge facing the future hydrogen economy is a sustainable, lower-cost method of producing hydrogen in large capacities. Nuclear based hydrogen generation by splitting of water provides a cleaner and compelling alternative to hydrogen production from fossil fuels.
Why nuclear energy to produce hydrogen?
Nuclear energy provides a large-scale and low-carbon source of energy to produce hydrogen. The use of hydrogen in the production of transport fuels from crude oil and other hydrocarbons (such as oil sands) is increasing rapidly. Hydrogen is likely to become an important future fuel for CO2 emissions reduction by vehicles. Nuclear hydrogen production provides a flexible alternative to batteries for plug-in hybrid vehicles. Nuclear energy can be used to produce hydrogen by electrolysis and thermochemical cycles without generating greenhouse gases. In the coming decades, energy demand for hydrogen production could exceed that for electricity production today.
How is nuclear energy used to produce hydrogen?
The growth of nuclear energy’s role in hydrogen production in future decades is anticipated to include the following technologies: 1) electrolysis of water, particularly using off-peak capacity; 2) high-temperature electrolysis of steam, using heat and electricity from nuclear reactors; and 3) high-temperature direct production of hydrogen with thermochemical cycles, such as sulfur-based and copper-chlorine cycles.
nuclear hydrogen programs (source: CEA, France)
Electrolysis of water is an existing commercial technology that decomposes water into oxygen and hydrogen gas due to an electric current being passed through the water. It provides a stable and predictable cost of hydrogen not linked to commodity prices such as natural gas. It also enables a robust and reliable hydrogen supply due to modular electrolysis platforms and grid electricity backup. High-temperature electrolysis (HTE), or steam electrolysis, uses electricity to produce hydrogen from steam, instead of liquid water. This method can potentially achieve higher efficiencies than standard electrolysis of water. Technical challenges to commercialization include the development of high-temperature materials and membranes.
Thermochemical water-splitting cycles.
Cycles of thermochemical water splitting consist of chemical and physical processes that are connected together to form a closed internal loop that re-cycles all compounds on a continuous basis, without emitting any greenhouse gases. Leading examples include the sulfur-iodine cycle (maximum operating temperature of about 850oC) and copper-chlorine cycle (530oC). These cycles have the potential of higher efficiency and large-scale production rates. Technological challenges include high temperature and corrosive operating conditions, materials of construction and scale-up to large industrial plants. The interface between a nuclear reactor and the hydrogen plant involves heat exchangers that transfer heat at elevated temperatures between the plants, new safety and regulatory issues that will need to be developed, and supporting systems for chemical processes including hydrogen and oxygen storage.
of future nuclear and thermochemical hydrogen plants
of copper-chlorine (Cu-Cl) cycle
Nuclear hydrogen future.
Nuclear hydrogen production is a potentially major solution to the problems of climate change and depleting conventional fuels. Hydrogen is a clean fuel that does not release carbon dioxide when burned. It can be used to heat our homes, power our equipment, supply fuel for vehicles, and many other everyday applications that currently use oil, coal or natural gas. It also has many other industrial needs. Hydrogen is needed by petrochemical, agricultural (ammonia for fertilizers), manufacturing, food processing, electronics, plastics, metallurgical, aerospace and other industries. Production of biofuels and other synfuels requires hydrogen.
of future nuclear hydrogen infrastructure
Dr. Greg F. Naterer, Professor and Dean of Engineering
Memorial University of Newfoundland
St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada