- DOE/INL Fund $10M for Hydrogen Production at Xcel Nuclear Reactor
- John Wagner Named INL Director
- BWXT Fires Up TRISO Fuel Manufacturing Operations
- Terrestrial Energy Inks Molten Salt Testing Program at ANL
- ORNL to Produce Solid Metal Hydride Moderator for Advanced Reactors
A Private-public Partnership Will Use Nuclear Energy
to Produce Hydrogen for Industrial Customers
- Project is first U.S. pairing of high-temperature steam electrolysis with commercial heat
- More than $10 million in federal funding will help a Minnesota nuclear power plant make hydrogen in a way that could transform the nuclear energy industry.
Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy will work with Idaho National Laboratory to demonstrate a system that uses a nuclear plant’s steam and electricity to split water. The result will be the production of hydrogen which will initially be used at the power plant, but it could eventually be sold to other industries.
The U.S. Department of Energy announced the funding award on Oct. 8. The new project is the first of its kind in pairing a commercial electricity generator with high-temperature steam electrolysis (HTSE) technology. It builds on a project launched last year to demonstrate how hydrogen production facilities could be installed at operating nuclear power plants. The project showcases collaboration between DOE’s Nuclear Energy and Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy offices.
“This is a game-changer for both nuclear energy and carbon-free hydrogen production for numerous industries,” said Richard Boardman, national technical lead for the DOE Light Water Reactor Sustainability Program’s Flexible Plant Operations and Generation Pathway.
Today, industrial-grade hydrogen is produced by stripping it from natural gas molecules, releasing carbon monoxide (CO) in the process. Since nuclear power plants do not emit CO or CO2 or other air pollutants, hydrogen made by splitting water at nuclear plants can help lower the carbon footprint of industrial hydrogen customers.
“Xcel Energy was the first major American utility to pursue a vision of 100% carbon-free electricity, and now we’ll be the first company to produce carbon-free hydrogen at a nuclear plant using this technology,” said Tim O’Connor, Xcel Energy chief generation officer.
The project will demonstrate HTSE using heat and electricity from one of Xcel Energy’s nuclear plants, likely the Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Station. HTSE technology is a fit at nuclear power plants, where high-quality steam and electricity are both readily accessible without having to pipe it off-site to another plant.
Xcel Energy also has a large amount of wind in its energy generation portfolio, which offers an opportunity to demonstrate how a nuclear plant’s electricity could be used to make hydrogen when wind energy satisfies grid demand.
This arrangement allows the nuclear plant to operate near 100% of capacity 24X7 and eliminates the need for complex load following procedures that ultimately reduce electricity output.
A recent analysis under DOE’s H2@Scale initiative, led by the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office, estimated that hydrogen produced by HTSE at a nuclear plant could be cost competitive in today’s market. The report was published by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. (Fact Sheet PDF file)
“Today, a number of nuclear power plants could produce cost-competitive hydrogen – and, with additional electrolyzer R&D and more installations, many more nuclear plants could in the future,” said Mark Ruth, a group manager with NREL’s Strategic Energy Analysis Center who is lead author of the report.
“Hydrogen is a versatile energy carrier that can help the decarbonization of major energy sectors,” said Amgad Elgowainy, a senior scientist and group leader with Argonne National Laboratory’s Energy Systems Division, and a report author.
Commercial hydrogen production via low-temperature electrolysis will be demonstrated by a previously awarded project, which launched in September 2019. Led by Energy Harbor’s Davis-Besse Nuclear Plant near Toledo, Ohio, the two-year project will demonstrate a 1-to-3-MWe low-temperature electrolysis unit to produce commercial quantities of hydrogen.
The third utility participating in the project, Arizona Public Service (APS), which operates the Palo Verde Generating Station, is also evaluating the integration of nuclear energy with hydrogen production.
Many industrial sectors, including steel and ammonia production, use hydrogen to make their products. Hydrogen also is a form of clean energy that can power vehicles. The goal of these projects is to traverse technical barriers, so commercial nuclear power plants can make and sell commodities such as hydrogen in addition to electricity.
John Wagner Named Idaho National Laboratory Director
Battelle Energy Alliance’s (BEA) Board of Managers announced that John Wagner, Ph.D., will be the next director of Idaho National Laboratory (INL). BEA manages and operates the laboratory for the U.S. Department of Energy.
Wagner will begin his new role on 12/11/20. Wagner has been at INL since 2016 and has been Associate Laboratory Director for Nuclear Science and Technology since 2017.
Wagner has more than 20 years of experience performing research and managing and leading research and development projects, programs and organizations. Prior to joining INL, he worked at Oak Ridge National Laboratory for nearly 17 years, where he held several research and leadership roles in reactor and fuel cycle technologies.
Wagner earned his doctorate and master’s degrees from Pennsylvania State University and his bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering from the Missouri University of Science and Technology.
He is an American Nuclear Society Fellow, the highest honor bestowed by the Society and a recipient of the 2013 E.O. Lawrence Award. He has authored or co-authored more than 170 refereed journal and conference articles, technical reports and conference summaries.
Wagner succeeds Mark Peters as INL laboratory director who last August accepted the position of executive vice president for laboratory operations at Battelle.
BWXT Restarts TRISO Nuclear Fuel Manufacturing
BWX Technologies, Inc. (NYSE: BWXT) announced that its BWXT Nuclear Operations Group, Inc. subsidiary has completed its TRISO nuclear fuel line restart project and is producing fuel at its Lynchburg, Va. facility.
In June 2020, BWXT announced a contract with the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Idaho National Laboratory to expand BWXT’s TRISO manufacturing capacity and produce a demonstration quantity of the fuel. The project is jointly funded by the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DoD) Operational Energy Capabilities Improvement Fund Office and NASA, with overall program management provided by the DoD’s Strategic Capabilities Office.
Previously, in March 2020, BWXT announced a contract with the DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory to demonstrate capability to manufacture TRISO nuclear fuel to support the continued development of the Transformational Challenge Reactor.
The scope of the contract includes the fabrication and delivery of uranium kernels, TRISO coated surrogate materials, and TRISO coated uranium kernels for a demonstration batch.
TRISO refers to a specific design of uranium nuclear reactor fuel. TRISO is a shortened form of the term TRIstructural-ISOtropic. TRIstructural refers to the layers of coatings surrounding the uranium fuel, and ISOtropic refers to the coatings having uniform materials characteristics in all directions so that fission products are essentially retained.
BWXT is in the process of hiring 25 additional workers for its TRISO operations.
Wide Interest in TRISO Fuel
TRISO fuel testing is gaining a lot of interest from the advanced reactor community. Some reactor vendors such as X-energy and Kairos Power, along with the Department of Defense, are planning to use TRISO fuel for their designs—including some small modular and micro-reactor concepts.
X-energy is currently manufacturing uranium oxide/carbide (UCO) based kernels, (NRC Briefing – PDF file) TRISO particles, compacts and fuel pebbles at an ~5,000-sq. ft. fuel facility located at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) as part of the DOE Advanced Reactor Concept 2015 Cooperative Agreement.
Terrestrial Energy Inks Molten Salt Testing Program
at Argonne National Laboratory
Terrestrial Energy USA and Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) have begun a detailed testing program for the fuel salt to be used in the Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR) Generation IV nuclear power plant. The fuel salt testing program is part of a broader ongoing testing program for fuel, components, and systems used in the IMSR power plant. The results of these tests will support licensing applications in Canada and the U.S.
Terrestrial Energy USA began working with ANL in 2016 after receiving an award from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) program. GAIN directs support to the nuclear community commercializing innovative nuclear technologies.
ANL will use an extensive array of characterization techniques and advanced laboratory equipment to determine the compliance of thermo-physical properties of the IMSR fuel salt to regulatory standards. ANL will prepare and test fuel salt mixtures that replicate the fuel salt composition over the full IMSR operating cycle. The laboratory investigations will include melting point determinations, density, viscosity, heat capacity, and thermal diffusivity measurements.
Oak Ridge National Lab Designs System
to Produce Solid Metal Hydride Moderator
Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) developed a system to fabricate large quantities of solid yttrium hydride—a rare earth metal and hydrogen mixture that will be used as a moderator for its Transformational Challenge Reactor (TCR). Citation: Development of Yttrium Hydride Moderator for the Transformational Challenge Reactor, (PDF file) Xunxiang Hu*, Chinthaka Silva&, and Kurt A. Terrani† all at ORNL.
The new moderator is getting the interest of a number of microreactor programs and could also open up opportunities with NASA as it develops new space reactors and propulsion systems.
For decades, scientists have been interested in using metal hydrides as a moderator in compact, high-temperature reactors. While most existing reactors use pressurized water as a moderator, metal hydrides contain an equivalent or higher concentration of hydrogen and can work at high temperatures without the high pressure that water requires. The high hydrogen density and moderating efficiency of metal hydrides enables smaller reactor cores that can operate more efficiently and reduce waste products.
To achieve optimal performance as a high-temperature moderator, the yttrium hydride must be a flawless solid piece. Any cracks in the material can decrease thermal conductivity and impact the release of hydrogen. Yttrium hydride is not commercially available in a solid form, so scientists created a system in just 10 months to mass produce flawless pieces at a scale required for TCR.
By the end of the project, researchers had perfected large-scale yttrium hydride production and established a reliable database with detailed information that fully captures its specific characteristics. The process identifies the thermal, mechanical and neutron scattering properties to better determine yttrium hydride’s stability within a nuclear reactor core.
The TCR design, development and operation of the metal hydriding system is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy.
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