UK HFCA calls for action on nuclear-enabled hydrogen

Article by Kerry Hebden

The UK HFCA is calling on the UK government to embrace the benefits of nuclear-enabled Hydrogen (NEH) to help combat CO2 emissions.

FOLLOWING a push by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to accelerate cleaner hydrogen production using nuclear energy, the UK Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association (UK HFCA), is now calling on the government to embrace the benefits of nuclear-enabled Hydrogen (NEH) with legislation, financial backing and more nuclear sites to help combat CO2 emissions. 

Drawing parallels with the roadmap recently announced by the IAEA, and with the demand for hydrogen at an all-time high as nations look to end their reliance on fossil fuels, the UK HFCA has issued a report advocating the use of NEH to prop up supplies, and to help decarbonise some of the UK’s hardest to abate sectors. 

NEH is the production of hydrogen by water splitting, using heat and surplus electricity from nuclear power plants.  

Although NEH does emit some CO2, mainly in the construction and decommissioning of equipment and facilities used in its production, and in the mining of the minerals used as a feedstock for the plant, these emissions are vastly outweighed by the volume of clean energy generated by just one plant across its 60+ year lifespan, the UK HFCA says. 

According to the report, a single nuclear power plant has the potential to generate enough hydrogen to decarbonise the heating of 1m homes or 40,000 hydrogen buses from a site no more than a few square kilometers in size.  

Furthermore that technology is available today in the form of electrolysis, a technique that uses direct electric current to drive an otherwise non-spontaneous chemical reaction. 

“Electrolysis can provide the flexibility required to solve this challenge by absorbing nuclear electricity at times of high renewables generation – or vice versa. In addition, it can provide the means for matching nuclear power generation to the steady-state demand for hydrogen that characterises several of our essential chemical processes, such as ammonia and methanol production,” said UK HFCA member Marcus Newborough.  

Along with stressing the role NEH could play in meeting the new UK production target for low carbon hydrogen – which have risen from 5GW to 10GW by 2030, the report also makes a number of recommendations.  

These include ensuring the UK has enough domestic organisations that can operate NEH facilities, and co-locating the production of NEH within industrial clusters to bring strong synergies between the nuclear electricity generation and the industries served by the cluster. 

“With the right combination of government support and industry action, delivering these ambitious goals will help deliver net zero and secure energy supplies for the future,” concludes Allan Simpson, chair of the UK HFCA’s Nuclear Enabled Hydrogen Working Group. 

Opponents of nuclear are concerned about the hazard of radioactive waste produced by nuclear energy, the challenges of permanently storing it; and the costs of nuclear compared to renewables. A study published by chemical engineers last year ranked nuclear as one of the most risky fuels in terms of supply chain security.

Article by Kerry Hebden

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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