Three nuclear utilities have been selected by the U.S. Department of Energy to partner with the Idaho National Laboratory to begin making hydrogen for commercial use. If successful, the project will have a positive impact on the utilities’ financial health.
The utility participants are;
- Akron, Ohio-based FirstEnergy Solutions, the industry leader for the effort, which owns and oerates the Davis-Besse nuclear plant.
- Xcel Energy, a Minneapolis-based energy company that owns and operates two nuclear plants in Minnesota; and
- Arizona Public Service (APS), a Phoenix, Arizona-based utility that operates Palo Verde Generating Station.
The two-year project led by FirstEnergy Solutions will deploy a 1- to 3-MWe low-temperature electrolysis unit to produce commercial quantities of hydrogen. The first site, planned for 2020, is FirstEnergy Solution’s Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station near Toledo, Ohio.
Hydrogen from Davis-Besse may initially be used to supply public transportation fleets in Ohio, in new direct iron reduction plants being constructed to produce steel products, or for other commercial products. (See this DOE briefing on the use of hydrogen in the iron and steel industry.)
The project will demonstrate how hydrogen from commercial nuclear operations can be used to produce “green” products and commodities in significant quantities for domestic use and for export to international markets. For instance, Germany is now running commuter passenger trains powered by hydrogen.
Video: Animation: the Coradia iLint by Alstom – the worlds’ first fuel cell passenger train
The second site, planned for 2021, will occur at an Xcel Energy nuclear site and employ technologies for hydrogen production, which could be used to reduce the environmental impact of a number of industrial processes and possibly also in the transportation sector.
The demonstration project at Xcel Energy will help determine if hydrogen production can enhance the company’s growing carbon-free footprint. Redirecting nuclear energy from electricity to hydrogen production could help balance the electrical grid with the increasing amount of wind and solar energy on the system.
The company has also been testing flexible operations at its nuclear plants, but hydrogen could create an entirely new value stream. Xcel Energy plans to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent in the Upper Midwest by 2030 (from 2005 levels) and is pursuing a vision to provide electricity from 100 percent carbon-free sources by 2050.
The third site, planned for 2020-2022, will occur at APS’ Palo Verde Generating Station near Phoenix, Arizona. This will employ similar or more advanced hydrogen production technologies. Hydrogen from Palo Verde may be used as energy storage for use in reverse-operable electrolysis or peaking gas turbines during times of the day when photovoltaic solar energy sources are unavailable and energy reserves in the U.S. Southwest are low.
It could also be used to support a hydrogen transportation fuel market. Experience from this pilot project will offer valuable insights into methods for flexible transitions between electricity and hydrogen generation missions in solar-dominated electricity markets Also, it could demonstrate how hydrogen may be used as energy storage to provide electricity during operating periods when solar is not available.
While some industry analysts asked why DOE would call this project a “demonstration,” others pointed to view that this may be a strategy to eliminate the need and challenge of a nuclear power plant to do load following with the cheaper but intermittent renewable generation.
Rather than reducing load when renewables are at rated capacity, the analyst said, the load would be shifted to hydrogen generation and the reactor would be maintained at full power thus eliminating the well known operational concerns of load following. In other words, it is a form of “load replacement” to ease the work of making nuclear power plants compatible on the grid with the intermittent nature of renewables.
Davis-Besse May Get a New Lease on Life from Hydrogen
First Energy has scheduled Davis-Besse to be closed, along with Ohio’s Perry plant, due to an inability to compete with the low price of natural gas. The new project may boost the bottom line of the utility and keep the plant open. The DOE project is worth $11.5M of which $9M will be allocated to the Davis-Besse effort.
Wire service reports in Ohio quoted Toledo Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur, who announced the grant in her district. She said hydrogen production could be a new energy alternative that would keep nuclear power plants competitive for years.
She said costs of the project will shared between federal agencies, industry-led teams and public and private laboratories. The U.S. Department of Energy will invest $9,184,229 while non-DOE partners will invest $2,299,391, for a total $11,483,620. Under this proposal, FirstEnergy Solutions will develop a light water reactor (LWR) hybrid energy system for installation at Davis-Besse. She added that the project was competitively awarded.
“This funding will play an important role in improving Davis-Besse’s capacity to produce useable energy in a way that is more economically sustainable, has more industrial uses, and makes Davis-Besse economically competitive for the long-term,” Kaptur aid in a press statement.
According to Kaptur, the United States produces over 10 million tons of hydrogen, nearly one-seventh of the global supply, primarily for oil refining and fertilizer production.
Background on the Project
The three commercial electric utilities and Idaho National Laboratory have been chosen by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy for three first-of-a-kind projects to improve the long-term economic competitiveness of the nuclear power industry.
Through these competitive awards, DOE encourages partnerships between federal agencies, public and private laboratories, institutions of higher education, and the business community, including electric utilities, to share expertise needed to successfully develop innovative nuclear technologies.
In a press statement, Bruce Hallbert, director of DOE’s Light Water Reactor Sustainability Program, based at INL, said, “These first-of-a-kind projects represent significant advances for improving the long-term economic competitiveness of the light water reactor industry,”
“They will enable the production of commodities such as hydrogen in addition to electricity from commercial nuclear power plants. These projects also accelerate the transition to a national hydrogen economy by contributing to the use of hydrogen as a storage medium for production of electricity, as a zero-emitting transportation fuel, or as a replacement for industrial processes that currently use carbon-emitting sources in hydrogen production.”
INL is one of the U.S. Department of Energy’s national laboratories. The laboratory performs work in each of DOE’s strategic goal areas: energy, national security, science and environment. INL is the nation’s leading center for nuclear energy research and development. Day-to-day management and operation of the laboratory is the responsibility of Battelle Energy Alliance.
Exelon Exploring Hydrogen Production
Last month Power Magazine reported that Exelon, the nation’s largest nuclear power generator, and Norwegian firm Nel Hydrogen, could demonstrate an integrated hydrogen production, storage, and utilization facility at an existing nuclear plant site. The $3.6 million project is one of 29 projects the Department of Energy (DOE) selected in August to receive up to $40 million in fiscal year 2019 federal funding to advance the H2@Scale concept (DOE List of funded projects.)
The plan is enable “reliable” large-scale hydrogen generation, transport, storage, and utilization in the U.S. across multiple sectors. Exelon work with DOE to plan for up to $3.6 million in federal funding, which it will cost-share, for the three-year-long demonstration.
Exelon plans to select a site on which to install a proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolyzer and an associated hydrogen storage system, along with supporting infrastructure, and a control system. Exelon said it took on the project because nuclear economics have lately been challenged by the widespread use of cheap renewable and natural gas to produce electrical power.
Energy For Humanity / Evidence ‘Shows Clearly’
That Nuclear Is Needed For Sustainability
(NucNet) Evidence “shows clearly” that under current legislation the nuclear energy lifecycle does not cause significant harm to Europe’s sustainability objectives, according to a report by Energy for Humanity. Nuclear energy is needed to play a part in the global climate change mitigation challenge the report said.
The report, funded by EDF Energy and prepared for the European commission technical expert group on sustainable finance, was published in response to the group’s report that proposed leaving nuclear energy out of the first version of the bloc’s sustainable finance taxonomy.
In 2018 the commission created a technical expert group on sustainable finance to define which activities should be included within the taxonomy – essentially a determination of whether an economic activity is environmentally sustainable.
Energy for Humanity said the climate change mitigation potential of nuclear energy was found to have strong base, However, despite strong agreement that nuclear has low lifecycle emissions and can help mitigate climate change, the report cites “confusing and mixed evidence” regarding the so-called ‘Do No Significant Harm’ criteria on some of the sustainability objectives.
“As a result, the EU Commission’s technical report, published in June 2019, proposed to leave nuclear energy out from the first version of the taxonomy,” the report said.
The Energy for Humanity report said scientific consensus concludes that maintaining and expanding nuclear energy is necessary to achieve sustainability objectives such as climate change mitigation. This fact is reflected in the significant number of European Union member states whose climate and sustainability policies include a future role for nuclear energy.
Earlier this week the Brussels-based nuclear industry trade association Foratom called on the commission to acknowledge the critical role nuclear energy has to play under the EU’s sustainable finance initiative.
“FORATOM calls on the European Commission to acknowledge the critical role which nuclear energy has to play under the sustainable finance initiative. We strongly believe the decision to not include nuclear at this stage in the taxonomy should be reviewed as it is in total contradiction with EU climate policy. Also, much still needs to be done in order to ensure that the principle of technological neutrality is maintained.”
Foratom said that in the case of nuclear, the group’s report focused on the issue of waste and used it as an excuse to exclude nuclear from the taxonomy. For other technologies, however, the waste criteria do not appear to have been applied in the same way creating a false picture of the true situation.
Dukovany / Czech Ministry Approves EIA
For Up To 2,400 MW Of New Nuclear
(NucNet) The Czech Ministry of Environmental Protection has approved the environmental impact assessment for the construction of up to two new nuclear power plants at the existing Dukovany nuclear station in the south of the country.
“Our examination confirmed that the new source of nuclear energy will not have a negative impact on the environment and public health. It [the first unit] should replace one of the four operating units of the Dukovany NPP,” the ministry’s press service said in a statement.
The ministry said the approval was for up to 2,400 MW of new capacity at the site. It said approval of the EIA is not a construction permit, but “a professional basis for further proceedings.”
Countries neighboring the Czech Republic all took part in the EIA process. Austria and Germany took part in meetings, with Hungary and Poland submitting their contributions in writing. Slovakia considered the information contained in the EIA documentation to be sufficient and did not request consultations, the ministry said. Significantly, the anti-nuclear Austrian government did not use the environmental process to try to stop the project.
In July the Czech government approved a preliminary plan for a CEZ subsidiary to build a new nuclear power station at Dukovany. According to the government, Elektrárna Dukovany II, a company to be wholly owned by state-controlled power group ČEZ, will be responsible for the expansion of Dukovany.
A tender for the project is expected to be organized at the end of 2020 with construction beginning before 2030 and completed between 2035 and 2040. The contract will be worth about CZK100 billion ($4.8bn). These dates may change and some milestones may occur sooner rather than later.
In a major shift in policy the Czech government said it will provide financing and political guarantees for the project. Previous government policy ruled that thee measures were “subsidies” for nuclear energy. Also, the government may have to buy out CEZ’s private institutional investors to avoid lawsuits over perceived financial risk of the project. CEZ is a mostly state-owned utility.
There are four Russia-designed VVER-440 reactor units at the Dukovany site, and the ministry said they should be replaced by new ones in about 20 to 30 years or sooner. The Czech Republic has six commercially operational reactor units. In addition to the four units at Dukovany, there are two Russian VVER-1000 units at Temelín.
NEI Magazine in the UK reported that interest has been expressed by Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom, US-based Westinghouse, China General Nuclear Power Corporation, France’s EDF, Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power, and the joint French-Japanese venture Mitsubishi Atmea.
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