Nuclear power plants can produce hydrogen to fuel the 'hydrogen economy'

Mar 26, 2012

The long-sought technology for enabling the fabled "hydrogen economy" — an era based on hydrogen fuel that replaces gasoline, diesel and other fossil fuels, easing concerns about foreign oil and air pollution — has been available for decades and could begin commercial production of hydrogen in this decade, a scientist reported here today.

Speaking at the 243rd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world's largest scientific society, Ibrahim Khamis, Ph.D., described how heat from existing nuclear plants could be used in the more economical production of hydrogen, with future plants custom-built for hydrogen production. He is with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, Austria.

"There is rapidly growing interest around the world in hydrogen production using nuclear power plants as heat sources," Khamis said. "Hydrogen production using nuclear energy could reduce dependence on oil for fueling motor vehicles and the use of coal for generating electricity. In doing so, hydrogen could have a beneficial impact on global warming, since burning hydrogen releases only water vapor and no carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas. There is a dramatic reduction in pollution."

Khamis said scientists and economists at IAEA and elsewhere are working intensively to determine how current nuclear power reactors — 435 are operational worldwide — and future nuclear power reactors could be enlisted in hydrogen production.

Most hydrogen production at present comes from natural gas or coal and results in releases of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. On a much smaller scale, some production comes from a cleaner process called electrolysis, in which an electric current flowing through water splits the H2O molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. This process, termed electrolysis, is more efficient and less expensive if water is first heated to form steam, with the electric current passed through the steam.

Khamis said that nuclear power plants are ideal for hydrogen production because they already produce the heat for changing water into steam and the electricity for breaking the steam down into hydrogen and oxygen. Experts envision the current generation of nuclear power plants using a low-temperature electrolysis which can take advantage of low electricity prices during the plant's off-peak hours to produce hydrogen. Future plants, designed specifically for hydrogen production, would use a more efficient high-temperature electrolysis process or be coupled to thermochemical processes, which are currently under research and development.

"Nuclear hydrogen from electrolysis of water or steam is a reality now, yet the economics need to be improved," said Khamis. He noted that some countries are considering construction of new nuclear plants coupled with high-temperature steam electrolysis (HTSE) stations that would allow them to generate hydrogen gas on a large scale in anticipation of growing economic opportunities.

Khamis described how IAEA's Hydrogen Economic Evaluation Programme (HEEP) is helping. IAEA has designed its HEEP software to help its member states take advantage of nuclear energy's potential to generate hydrogen gas. The software assesses the technical and economic feasibility of production under a wide variety of circumstances.

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Abstract
The interest in hydrogen production using nuclear power plants as heat sources is growing rapidly in a number of nations. A considerable focus is being devoted to explore the option of current and future nuclear power reactors for hydrogen production. The use of current types of nuclear power reactors are foreseen as a short-term option for the production of hydrogen using low temperature electrolysis. Whereas the later one are seen as mid-term option as they will provide high temperature steam for the production of hydrogen using high temperature steam electrolysis or other promising thermochemical cycles.

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antialias_physorg
1.7 / 5 (18) Mar 26, 2012
Oh boy, the nuclear lobby is really coming up with ever wilder schemes to stay alive.

Hydrogen production using nuclear energy could reduce dependence on oil for fueling motor vehicles and the use of coal for generating electricity.

Correct me if I'm wrong - but producing hydrogen from nuclear in order to produce electricity - for REPLACING COAL - sounds really, really dumb.

Hydrogen for fueling motors - yes. But the way it looks now we're headed more into the battery EV-age than into the hydrogen-fuelcell EV-age.
kochevnik
1.5 / 5 (18) Mar 26, 2012
Well so far they've been using hydrogen to blow off the domes of their buildings and spread death over populations. Great to see it has another use besides mass murder.
ShotmanMaslo
4.4 / 5 (14) Mar 26, 2012
No, it is not dumb, if you actually know something about the topic. Contrary to the problem of intermittency with renewables, nuclear reactors have opposite "problem" - they produce too stable power. That does not mean they are unable to satify 100% of the load without storage like renewables, since you can just overbuild and dump the excess into resistors at worst (use it as a resistive district heating (common in France), or to produce hydrogen) which is far cheaper than storage. Of course it is not ideal, since it wastes power, and even hydrogen production is not economical compared to selling power to the grid.

But that assumes only electrolysis to produce hydrogen, no heat. Once you actually preheat the water to few hundred degrees with the heat from the power plant, the efficiency of electrolysis increases substantially, and the cost of such H2 may be even lower than from fossil fuels:
http://en.wikiped...-thermal
ShotmanMaslo
2.7 / 5 (9) Mar 26, 2012
Renewables are incapable of such feat, since they produce directly electricity, and no high intensity heat (except for solar thermal).

Regarding the EVs - both EVs and pure hydrogen cars simply do not have the energy density and portabiliy of current fossil fuels. There is a solution - chemical "hydrogen storage" - production of synthetic hydrocarbon / ammonia fuels from H2 and CO2 / N2 from air. But that again requires high intensity heat - and thats where high temperature reactors come in.
Jimbaloid
2.6 / 5 (7) Mar 26, 2012
I'm not against the idea, but clearly there is a need for even more stringent safe guards when you have an explosive gas and nuclear material on the same site!
Kinedryl
5 / 5 (5) Mar 26, 2012
The electrolytic production of hydrogen is very ineffective, about 20 - 40% of energy is wasted during this. http://en.wikiped...ficiency It would be great to utilize waste heat for it.
Eikka
1.6 / 5 (8) Mar 26, 2012
Hydrogen is first and foremost needed for fertilizers, plastics and synthetic petrochemicals such as lubricants for machinery in a post-fossil-fuel world.

It's more important as an industrial chemical than in your fuel tank.
Eikka
1 / 5 (2) Mar 26, 2012
The electrolytic production of hydrogen is very ineffective, about 20 - 40% of energy is wasted during this. http://en.wikiped...ficiency It would be great to utilize waste heat for it.


Not to mention the expense of replacing the electrodes and electrolytes used in a highly corrosive environment, and cleaning the water feedstock of impurities that would otherwise concentrate in the electrolysis cells.

You basically have to run it with distilled water if you want to keep an electrolysis system operational in the long term. Otherwise it'll just gum up with minerals in the water that are left behind and the efficiency is lower still, unless you keep scrubbing it clean constantly. I'll leave it for everyone to consider how to distill large amounts of water economically.

But as for distillation, the crucial step is to turn water into steam. This is practically necessary anyways.
Mike_Massen
1.3 / 5 (6) Mar 26, 2012
It would be a waste of resources to make any Hydrogen !

There was a thermodynamic/economic study some 15 years ago that made the claim that "Even if hydrogen was available for free then it would be far too expensive to use"... Which sounds strange, I mean who would not want a free fuel but, if you look at the details (and they do matter - no politics) then it does make a lot of thermodynamic sense.

Hydrogen has a few unfortunate properties:-
- Very low energy density
- wider range of flammability makes it more dangerous
- can be set off by the static from the gas escaping a small leak
- cannot see the flame front as it burns cleanly
- takes a tremendous amount of energy to compress to make useful
- Needs changes to engines and turbines as it causes embrittlement

When you add all these issues up then it becomes problematic it can do anything useful for transport and it depends fully on where the hydrogen is to start with, transport costs are not trivial...
antialias_physorg
4.3 / 5 (3) Mar 26, 2012
- Very low energy density

Which is being adressed in various ways (high pressure storage or metal hydrides). There are goals for energy density per volume and per weight set forth by various institutions.

- wider range of flammability makes it more dangerous

'More dangerous' is a relative term. Hydrogen is lighter than air (something that gasoline fumes are not). So it can escape upwards and doesn't linger around. Unless you have an enclosed space hydrogen is arguably 'less dangerous' than other fuels. Hydrogen under pressure is also less of a problem than one might think. A puncture will burn off (if lighted) - but not explode.

cannot see the flame front as it burns cleanly

While hydrogen flames are invisible the added stuff from the punctured container is not. So in reality hydrogen flames are rarely invisible.

Embrittlement is a real problem. Graphene coatings seem promising, though.
yoatmon
1.4 / 5 (5) Mar 26, 2012
I personally prefer synthesized photosynthesis for the production of H2 using nothing but sunlight and an appropriate catalyzer. Neither pollution nor radioactive wastes and efficiency > 60 %.
topkill
1 / 5 (6) Mar 26, 2012
Hydrogen. The great promise of saving the world with hydrogen:
Come to Candy Mountain Charlie, come to Candy Mountain! Shun, shun! Shun the non-believer!!!

LOL You hydrogen guys crack me the hell up.
Pkunk_
4.2 / 5 (5) Mar 26, 2012
Oh boy, the nuclear lobby is really coming up with ever wilder schemes to stay alive.

Hydrogen production using nuclear energy could reduce dependence on oil for fueling motor vehicles and the use of coal for generating electricity.

Correct me if I'm wrong - but producing hydrogen from nuclear in order to produce electricity - for REPLACING COAL - sounds really, really dumb.


I would rather say opposing it sounds dumb. Nuclear plants are already producing electricity , the only problem is they are also producing HUGE amounts of heat which is not used right now. What the article proposes is to use the excess waste heat for which they make those huge cooling towers.

Hydrogen for fueling motors - yes. But the way it looks now we're headed more into the battery EV-age than into the hydrogen-fuelcell EV-age.


The problem with batteries is the high capital cost involved, apart from the time wasted in constant charge/discharge cycles. All this can be avoid with fuels.
antialias_physorg
3 / 5 (2) Mar 26, 2012
While I do think we'll eventually have a hydrogen economy (because it just makes a lot of sense - in terms of ecology but also economy because of sustainability issues) I don't think we'll get the infrastructure for it up and running fast enough to abort the trend towards batteries.

We do have an electricity grid in place and we already have some public recharging stations up and running. With anyone able to put up a recharging station at home for minimal cost this is a bit of a head start for battery-based vehicles.

So short- to mid-term I foresee batteries to take the lead and hydrogen as the long-term perspective.
Mike_Massen
1.5 / 5 (8) Mar 26, 2012
@antialias_physorg

The thermodynamics of any hydrogen economy makes no sense, there are no ways to produce hydrogen now that doesnt produce more waste than used by a viable fuel, one consider the whole fuel cycle !

Liquid fuels will be around for a very long time, hydrogen will be sidestepped totally in any sustainable sense. There is enough oil for maybe another 50 years and enough gas that can be converted to liquid fuels for another 200 years. This is without synthesising bacteria for diesel or petrol production.

Its very likely that within 20 years we will have a liquid fuel economy supported predominantly by many types of biotech.

Petrol is about 9000Watt Hours/litre, its questionable if you would want a battery with the same energy density - especially as it cant be so easily 'put out' if it fails or is damaged. Large stationary batteries make a lot of sense to support renewables but not for transport use to rival diesel, petrol, alcohol or LPG based liquid fuels...

Kinedryl
1 / 5 (2) Mar 26, 2012
The thermodynamics of any hydrogen economy makes no sense, there are no ways to produce hydrogen now that doesnt produce more waste than used by a viable fuel, one consider the whole fuel cycle
The antialias_physorg is a religious proponent of hydrogen economy separated from economical reality. The true is, the hydrogen economy in form of carbon hydrides is far the cheapest form of hydrogen energy production, transport a storage. No other form is cheaper, so it cannot compete it. Even if we would produce the hydrogen in solely artificially way in solar or nuclear plants, its conversion to carbon hydrides would remain the cheapest and safest way, how to handle it.
antialias_physorg
3 / 5 (2) Mar 26, 2012
The thermodynamics of any hydrogen economy makes no sense, there are no ways to produce hydrogen now that doesnt produce more waste than used by a viable fuel, one consider the whole fuel cycle !

That really depends on how you create the hydrogen. Low yield creation via plants or simple catalysts in seawater might do the trick. Remember that conventinal fuels (and artificially created hydrocarbons) have other problems - burning such fuels always also creates NOx, carbon monoxide and a host of other nasties (and are polluting inthe case of a spill). Energy density, portability and stability aren't the only considerations when choosing a fuel type.

There is enough oil for maybe another 50 years and enough gas that can be converted to liquid fuels for another 200 years.

Yes - but there isn't enough stable climate for us to be able to afford using all of that.

antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Mar 26, 2012
Petrol is about 9000Watt Hours/litre, its questionable if you would want a battery with the same energy density

True - but this is a false comparison. The energy of hydrocarbon fuels is converted only at 50% efficiency in motors (tops). Electricity can be converted in electric motors at up to 98% efficiency. So to get a comparable energy use you'd only need half the Watthours/'litre' (better by kg) out of batteries than from hydrocarbons.

Add to that that regular motors work at lower efficiency over a much wider range of rpm than electric motors and that value drops even more.

I do think EVs make a lot of sense in urban settings. 90% of my travel time I go from home to work (or to the city) and back. An EV would be perfect for that - even with low energy content. If the prices on them drop by 1/3 of what's on the market today then I'm sold.
Mike_Massen
1.7 / 5 (6) Mar 26, 2012
I'm not saying the ICE will remain dominant, clearly fuel cells driving motors via batteries and supercapacitors are more feasible, but nonetheless liquid fuels with higher and safer energy density will always be compared against, as I mentioned earlier re biology,

http://www.physor...ial.html

I actually ride an electric bike for the most part, the mix of weight, cost, space and utility factor is ideal for a bike but not yet for a car in large production, although it might get there in 10 years. The problem of plugging many cars into the grid when people get home has still to be managed but, I'm sure it can be staggered etc...
Silentsam
4.2 / 5 (5) Mar 26, 2012
It is sad to see anyone think that nuclear energy is bad on a site that I would have thought had educated people.
ShotmanMaslo
1 / 5 (1) Mar 26, 2012
"artificially created hydrocarbons) have other problems - burning such fuels always also creates NOx, carbon monoxide and a host of other nasties"

With modern engines, and purity of synthetic fuels, the amount of nasties is very low. The exhaust is basically pure CO2 and H20 in case of synthetic hydrocarbons, or N2 and H2O in case of ammonia fuel.
http://www.nh3fue...ion.org/

Dimethylether (DME) is another promising carbon neutral synthetic fuel, which can be produced from CO2, H2O and energy.
Mike_Massen
1 / 5 (2) Mar 26, 2012
@Silentsam,
Its because many get an education in risk/reward issues and general engineering risk assessment that, as we have an untapped renewable market which has no long term nuclear waste issues, we see nuclear (uranium fission) as not worth the problematic management factors re waste. Thorium on the other hand could be worthy of development due to different waste issues. Fusion definitely worth progressing... Also depends what you mean by 'educated', as in educated to ignore risk planning vs the cost of new plant...
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Mar 26, 2012
With modern engines, and purity of synthetic fuels, the amount of nasties is very low.

That doesn't really help big cities. Even cities which burn much cleaner fuels (like ethanol is being burned in Brazil) get problems in metropolitan areas.
Trucks can't be as clean as cars. And as soon as we move to shipping (where the real nasty stuff is burned) it gets much worse.

In the long run we'll want to have something that produces no poisons (at least I think we should want this).
ShotmanMaslo
1 / 5 (1) Mar 27, 2012
With modern engines, and purity of synthetic fuels, the amount of nasties is very low.

That doesn't really help big cities. Even cities which burn much cleaner fuels (like ethanol is being burned in Brazil) get problems in metropolitan areas.
Trucks can't be as clean as cars. And as soon as we move to shipping (where the real nasty stuff is burned) it gets much worse.

In the long run we'll want to have something that produces no poisons (at least I think we should want this).


Personal cars, especially in cities could indeed be electric. Its the long range trucks, heavy vehicles and machinery working where there is no easy grid access and aircrafts where synthetic fuels will be better.
rwinners
not rated yet Apr 02, 2012
"Correct me if I'm wrong - but producing hydrogen from nuclear in order to produce electricity - for REPLACING COAL - sounds really, really dumb."

Yeah, really dumb. I mean, how else are we going to use nuclear energy for transportation? Or for that matter, any other source of electricity?
Yes, we should burn enriched materials to produce electicity to fuel our automobiles and light our homes. Natural gas is a better choice for heating homes and it will also work in powering transportation. How difficult is this to understand?
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Apr 02, 2012
The point is that nuclear (whether you're for or against it) produces electricity directly. Using the electricity from nuclear for hydrogen production to then use that hydrogen to produce electricity is a step that is not needed.

Hydrogen production from electricity generating sources (e.g. solar or wind or waves) makes sense because you can't plan when and how much will be available. And even with good forecasts you cannot match output to need. So in these cases intermediary storage makes sense.

But nuclear is, despite all its drawbacks, a method that can be fit to produce the amount of electricity needed when it's needed. So this 'scheme' is merely a bid by the nuclear industry for survival.
rwinners
not rated yet Apr 02, 2012
My point is that hydrogen has potential as a transportation fuel. Rather than using huge batteries, a hydrogen fuel cell generator would be an advancement compared to today.
Battery technology simply does not provide the storage for long distance driving. A fuel cell/electric system would, as does today's dual fuel alternatives.
In addition, nuclear plants can be designed to produce hydrogen in addition to electricity by using excess heat.
Teneca
not rated yet Apr 02, 2012
My point is that hydrogen has potential as a transportation fuel. My point is that hydrogen has potential as a transportation fuel..
Why the hydrogen should be better in this point, then for example carbon hydrides, like the liquefied propane?
rwinners
not rated yet Apr 02, 2012
At this point, hydrogen is not 'better'.
Before we go on, let's define 'better'. If you think that cheaper is always better, then we can close this out now.