Use of Nuclear Energy to Produce Hydrogen Gains Ground

  • Lucid Catalyst Report Says Nuclear Reactors, Especially SMRs, are Key to Developing a Hydrogen Economy
  • UK / Roadmap Says Nuclear Could Produce One-Third Of Clean Hydrogen Needs By 2050
  • Japan Invests in an Advanced Small Modular Reactor Intended to Produce Hydrogen
  • Chinese Fast Reactor Begins High-Power Operation
  • BN-800 Fast Reactor Completes First Refueling with Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX); MBIR Research Reactor Set for Startup in 2028.
  • Japanese Utilities Revise MOX Utilization Plan

Lucid Catalyst Report –
Advanced Heat Sources are Key to Decarbonization

green h2

According to the UK based consulting firm Lucid Catalyst, in its latest report says that it’s not too late to meet the Paris goals. That finding comes with a big caveat.

The firm says that this is possible only if we are prepared to make major investments in clean hydrogen production.

“There is simply no other way to make the numbers add up – this truly is the missing link we need to maintain a livable climate on this planet.”

According to the firm’s research, given the scale and urgency of the required clean transition combined with the growth of the global energy system, all zero-carbon hydrogen production options must be pursued as fast as possible.,

The report, Missing Link to a Livable Climate, describes how to decarbonize “a substantial portion” of the global energy system, for which there is currently “no viable alternative”, and presents the six actions that are needed. (see summary below)

This report shows how existing industrial capabilities in the oil and gas sectors, combined with a new generation of advanced [small] modular reactors, can be re-deployed to fully and cost-competitively decarbonize aviation, shipping, cement, and other industries by mid-century.

To achieve this, the report says hydrogen-enabled fuels need to be produced, without emissions, at a price that is competitive with the fossil fuels they are replacing. It shows how advanced heat sources manufactured in high productivity environments, could deliver hydrogen on a large scale for USD1.10/kg, with further cost reductions at scale reaching USD0.90/kg by 2030.

These advanced heat sources can be built rapidly and at the required scale using a ‘gigafactory’ approach to modular construction and manufacturing, or in existing world-class shipyards.

The clean energy from these nuclear units, combined with “aggressive” renewables deployment, gives a much better chance of achieving the Paris goals of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius in the very limited time available

lucid chart 1

Report – Missing Link to a Livable Climate: How Hydrogen-Enabled Synthetic Fuels Can Help Deliver the Paris Goals

Note readers: The report is formatted to be read best in landscape mode

How Much Hydrogen is Needed at What Cost to Save the Planet?

To replace 100 million barrels of oil per day equivalent requires an investment of USD17 trillion, spent over 30 years from 2020 to 2050 or at an average rate of USD567 billion annually. (For comparison purposes, the total US defense budget in 2018 was USD618 billion) It follows that saving the planet won’t be cheap, but spending the money is better as an alternative to not having a livable planet.

The report notes that this level of spending is lower than the USD25 trillion investment otherwise required to maintain such fossil fuels flows in future decades, and contrasts with a USD70 trillion investment for a similarly sized renewables-to-fuels strategy.

“The potential of advanced heat sources to power the production of large-scale, very low-cost hydrogen and hydrogen-based fuels could transform global prospects for near-term decarbonization and prosperity.

While it sounds daunting to achieve the scale of production needed, the scalability and power density of advanced heat sources, including nuclear energy, are a major benefit. By moving to a manufacturing model with [small modular reactor] designs, it is possible to deliver hundreds of units in multiple markets around the world each year.”

How Can the Production of Hydrogen Can be Achieved?

The study shows how scalable, cost-effective hydrogen can be produced in the near term. To facilitate informed decision-making, it says that government and industry should immediately issue requests for information and seek quotes for shipyard manufactured plants and begin commissioning refinery-scale clean fuels production now.

Shipyards are “masters of cost, scale, and engineering integration” and their “tightly integrated design and manufacturing processes”, combined with onsite steel mills and long-term supply chain relationships, “offer exactly the needed heavy manufacturing components and equipment,” the report says.

Domestic and global zero-CO2 hydrogen market development along with existing and emerging global and domestic zero-carbon hydrogen policy initiatives should be “technology inclusive”, it says. They should be focused on key outcomes related to cost and scale of production, creation of zero-carbon hydrogen markets, and increased market share for zero-carbon fuels, it adds.

A key issue is access to finance. “In the same way that investors must take a portfolio approach to investments in order to reduce exposure to risk, global efforts to limit climate change should be spread across a portfolio of technology options,” it says, adding that “consistent, technology-inclusive access to finance is critical to realizing this”.

Finally, noting that advanced heat source technology is not included by significant energy modelling programs active across the world today, the report recommends that policy makers consider adding this demonstrated technology option into modelling where it is currently absent.

UK / Roadmap Says Nuclear Could Produce One-Third Of Clean Hydrogen Needs By 2050

(NucNet) Nuclear reactors, including (small modular reactors) SMRs, could help meet ‘immense’ challenge of moving to net zero economy. Nuclear power could produce one-third of the UK’s clean hydrogen needs by 2050 with existing large-scale nuclear plants and a new generation of advanced reactors playing a role, according to a hydrogen roadmap published by the Nuclear Industry Council (NIC).

uses of hydrogen

The roadmap outlines how large-scale and small modular reactors can produce both the power and the heat needed to produce emissions-free hydrogen, or “green hydrogen”.

Existing large-scale reactors could produce green hydrogen at scale through electrolysis, as could the next generation of gigawatt-scale reactors. SMRs, the first unit of which could be deployed within the next 10 years, would unlock further possibilities for green hydrogen production near industrial clusters.

Advanced modular reactors under development offer one of the most promising innovations for green hydrogen production, since they will create temperatures high enough to split water without diverting production of electricity.

The ability to generate both power and hydrogen would cut costs, add flexibility, and allow co-location of reactors with industry to aid further decarbonization.

The roadmap estimates that 12-13 GW of nuclear reactors of all types could use electrolysis, steam electrolysis using waste heat and thermochemical water splitting to produce 75 TWh of green hydrogen by 2050.

“We will need to deploy every low-carbon technology at our disposal to produce clean hydrogen, especially “green hydrogen” from zero-carbon sources,” the roadmap says. “Nuclear, as a proven zero-carbon generator, should be a key part of the clean hydrogen mix.”

The NIC, a joint forum between the UK nuclear industry and government, sets priorities for government-industry collaboration to promote nuclear power in the UK. It says the UK depends on fossil fuels for more than three-quarters of its energy, but over the next 30 years, must transition to a net zero economy and the challenge is “immense.”

Japan Invests in an Advanced Small Modular Reactor Intended to Produce Hydrogen

In the trend toward decarbonized societies, hydrogen is gaining prominence as a new energy source that does not emit carbon dioxide (CO2). The Japan Atomic Energy Agency is developing a new type of reactor, called the “High Temperature Engineering Test Reactor” (HTTR), in the town of Oarai, Ibaraki Prefecture.

The high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR) is the next generation of nuclear power generation that can simultaneously produce unlimited amounts of hydrogen along with electricity.
Prior Coverage on this blogJapan Gets Green Light to Restart R&D HTGR

One feature of HTGRs is that they use helium gas to produce a high temperature of 950 degrees, three times higher than that of conventional nuclear power. This high temperature can be used to drive a gas turbine to generate electricity, while producing hydrogen through the thermochemical decomposition of water, in a cyclical process involving iodine and sulfur dioxide.

japan htgrimg_data_01

Commercialization of this reaction, called the IS (iodine-sulfur) process, has been considered problematic, but the HTTR research team achieved 150 hours of continuous hydrogen production — the standard for long-time operation — two years ago.

The thermal output of the HTTR is 30,000 kilowatts. Since it is in the first stage of development, it is not equipped with a power generator, but it has all the basic functions of a high temperature gas-cooled reactor.

The HTTR is currently undergoing a safety review by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Compliance with new regulatory standards was confirmed in June 2020, and approval of the construction plan is underway. If construction work proceeds smoothly, operation is expected to resume in the summer of 2021.

Chinese Fast Reactor Begins High-Power Operation

(WNN) The China Experimental Fast Reactor (CEFR) has been restarted and reconnected to the grid, marking its entry into its high-power operation phase. The sodium-cooled, pool-type fast reactor began a refueling and maintenance outage at the end of July last year, having completed commissioning tests for the power test phase of the reactor.

The China Institute of Atomic Energy (CIEA) said the CEFR had started its second operating cycle on January 19th this year and was connected to the grid in February. It said the high-power operation of CEFR is “an important way to master fast reactor technology and cultivate talents.”

The CEFR was constructed near Beijing with Russian assistance at CIEA, which undertakes fundamental research on nuclear science and technology. The reactor has a thermal capacity of 65 MW and can produce 20 MW in electrical power. The CEFR was built by Russia’s OKBM Afrikantov in collaboration with OKB Gidropress, NIKIET and the Kurchatov Institute.

China’s fast reactor development has implemented a three-step strategy, namely going from an experimental fast reactor, to a demonstration fast reactor, to a commercial fast reactor.

Update on the CFR-600

Based on the CEFR, a 600 MWe design, the CFR-600, was developed by the CIEA. Construction of a demonstration unit in Xiapu County, in China’s Fujian province began in December 2017. This unit will have a power output of 1500 MWt and 600 MWe.

The reactor will use mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel with 100 GWd/t burnup, and will feature two coolant loops producing steam at 480°C. Later fuel will be metal with burnup of 100-120 GWd/t. The reactor will have active and passive shutdown systems and passive decay heat removal. Construction of a second CFR-600 unit at the Xiapu site began in December 2020.

A commercial-scale unit – the CFR1000 – will have a capacity of 1000-1200 MWe. Subject to a decision to proceed, construction could start in December 2028, with operation from about 2034. That design will use metal fuel and 120-150 GWd/t burnup.

BN-800 Fast Reactor Completes First Refueling
with Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX)

(WNN) Unit 4 of the Beloyarsk nuclear power plant, Russia’s BN-800 reactor, has been connected to the grid and resumed operations upon completion of scheduled maintenance. For the first time the refueling has been carried out with uranium-plutonium fuel only.
See prior coverage on this BlogUpdate on Russia Fast Reactor Projects

Distinct from traditional nuclear fuel with enriched uranium, mixed oxide (MOX) fuel pellets are based on the mix of nuclear fuel cycle derivatives, such as oxide of plutonium bred in commercial reactors, and oxide of depleted uranium which comes from defluorination of depleted uranium hexafluoride (UF6), the tailings of uranium enrichment facilities.

bn-800-large-image

The first batch of 18 MOX fuel assemblies was loaded into the BN-800 reactor core in January 2020, and now 160 assemblies more with fresh MOX fuel have been added. These replace the fuel assemblies with enriched uranium. The BN-800 core is now one-third filled with MOX fuel. From now on, only MOX fuel will be loaded into this reactor.

The development moves the Beloyarsk plant a step closer to Rosatom’s strategic goal to close the nuclear fuel cycle, Ivan Sidorov, director of Beloyarsk NPP, told World Nuclear News.

“This means that using MOX fuel will make it possible to involve the uranium that is not currently used in the fuel manufacturing and expand the resource feed-stock of the nuclear power industry. In addition, the BN-800 reactor can re-use spent nuclear fuel from other nuclear power plants and minimise radioactive waste by ‘afterburning’ long-lived isotopes from them. Taking into account the schedule, we will be able to switch to the core fully loaded with MOX fuel as early as 2022,” he said.

The fuel assemblies were manufactured at the Mining and Chemical Combine (MCC), in Zheleznogorsk, in the Krasnoyarsk region of Russia.

Russia’s MBIR Research Reactor Scheduled for Start Up in 2028

Rapid progress is being made towards commissioning of a multipurpose research nuclear reactor, Russia’s MBIR, under construction at the research Institute of Atomic Reactors (NIIAR in Dimitrovgrad, Ulyanovsk region). Commissioning is now scheduled for 2028,

Alexander Kurskiy, the head of the project office of advanced technologies Rosatom’s Science and Innovations, Division told NEI Magazine that it is planned to obtain a license to operate the reactor in 2027 and to carry out the physical start-up by the end of the same year. An energy start-up of MBIR is planned for 2028 with formal commissioning in the fourth quarter of that year.

The 150MWt multipurpose sodium-cooled fast neutron MBIR research nuclear reactor is expected to provide the nuclear industry with a research infrastructure for the coming 50 years. Its unique technical characteristics will make it possible to solve a wide range of research problems to support the development new competitive and safe NPPs, including fast reactors based on closing the nuclear fuel cycle.

MBIR will also be the base for a companion international research center, where international researchers will be able to carry out their experiments.

Japanese Utilities Revise MOX Utilization Plan

(WNN) A revised mixed oxide (MOX) fuel utilization plan, based on the latest operational plan for the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant and the MOX Fuel Fabrication Plant, has been released by Japan’s Federation of Electric Power Companies (FEPC).

While only four Japanese reactors have so far been restarted using MOX fuel, FEPC envisages at least 12 units running on the fuel by FY2030. The rate of usage of the surplus plutonium to make MOX fuel will be relatively low until more reactors in Japan are restarted and qualified to use MOX fuel.

Until 1998, Japan sent the bulk of its used fuel to plants in France and the UK for reprocessing and MOX fabrication. However, since 1999 it has been storing used fuel in anticipation of the full-scale operation of its own reprocessing and MOX fabrication facilities.

Construction of a reprocessing plant at Rokkasho began in 1993 and was originally expected to be completed by 1997. The facility is based on the same technology as Orano’s La Hague plant in France. Once operational, the maximum reprocessing capacity of the Rokkasho plant will be 800 tonnes per year. Construction of a 130 tonne per year MOX plant, also at Rokkasho, began in late 2010.

Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited said it now expects to complete construction of the reprocessing plant in 2022 and that of the MOX fuel plant in 2024. The start of use of domestically-produced MOX fuel is expected to be after 2026, FEPC said.

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