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Clean Power Steam from Philippsburg nuclear power plant

Published on March 26th, 2012 | by Joshua S Hill

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Turning Nuclear Power into the Hydrogen Economy

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March 26th, 2012 by
 
 
The technology for a nuclear plant to also create hydrogen fuel has been around for decades, according to IAEA member Ibrahim Khamis, Ph.D., who spoke at the 243rd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) on Sunday, and could help us into the long-heralded “hydrogen economy”.

The term “hydrogen economy” was first coined back in 1970 by former professor of Chemistry at Texas A&M University John Bockris during a talk he gave in 1970 at General Motors Technical Center. In short, it refers to an era where gasoline, diesel, and other fossil fuels are laid by the wayside and hydrogen powers our world.

Steam from Philippsburg nuclear power plant

Spin up to 2012, and according to Khamis, we have the technology to convert the steam created at nuclear power plants into hydrogen using a process termed electrolysis.

“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 current production of hydrogen comes from natural gas or coal and results in the production of carbon dioxide. However there are smaller scale electrolysis projects in use, a process which sends an electric current flowing through water, splitting the H2O molecules into hydrogen and oxygen, and is more efficient if the electric current is passed through steam.

Experts believe that existing nuclear power plants can be adapted using a low-temperature electrolysis which can take advantage of low electricity prices during the plant’s off-peak hours to produce hydrogen. For plants being designed and in construction, a more efficient, high-temperature electrolysis process can be coupled with thermochemical processes, and is 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.

True, economically viable possibility down the road? Or pipe dream?

Source: American Chemical Society
Image Source: Dmitry Klimenko

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About the Author

I'm a Christian, a nerd, a geek, a liberal left-winger, and believe that we're pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I also write for Fantasy Book Review (.co.uk), and can be found writing articles for a variety of other sites. Check me out at about.me for more.



  • coreybarcus

    A new industrial revolution will only be possible with with a dramatic reduction in energy costs. The only currently conceivable way that this could come about is with the development of a new generation of affordable nuclear generation, likely based upon molten salt reactors. This technology was pioneered with great success back in the 60s, but was unfortunately abandoned in favor of fast breeder reactors.

    If we are to use hydrogen as an energy carrier, then it will very likely be as ammonia (NH3), as opposed to H2 primarily due to the practical difficulties of its transport and storage. Honda’s fuel cell vehicle prototype, the Clarity FCX, uses a 60 gallon 350-bar tank to go 250 miles. With ammonia, a 20-gal 14-bar tank can probably go about 500 miles (roughly-speaking, an improvement of over 100x).

    So, the most efficient (and lowest cost) carbon-free system would consist of maybe hundreds to thousands of future high-temperature molten salt reactors producing ammonia via Solid-state Ammonia Synthesis (~60% more efficient than the Haber Process). This fuel system should easily scale to billions of vehicles with minimal environmental impact.

    A far more expensive way to synthesize ammonia would be via concentrated solar power utilizing thousands of square miles (over 10k square miles for 1 terawatt of energy), but it could probably still be done (though the economic and environmental impact will not be pretty).

    As energy costs are a fundamental input into economic activity, and our current problem couples economic production to carbon emissions, developing the cheapest possible source of carbon-free energy should be a national priority. But unfortunately, the general public remains largely unaware of the costs, risks, and opportunities associated with these problems and continues to support multiple impractical courses of action.

  • Jean-bernard Brisset

    Hydrogen Economy will be the next industrial revolution. People, including economists, have not yet grasped the importance of this fact. Oil price will have to climb to 300 dollars for the idea to dawn on people’s minds. Until now, we only hear critics of wind power, for instance; People argue that wind electricity is irregular. My views is that it has been so far unproperly used. Instead of being delivered to the grid, wind electricity should be exclusively used for the production of hydrogen. In which case the current needs not to be regular. Jeremy Rifkin was too optimistic in his pronostications in that The Hydrogen Economy is not so close as he thought, but it will come within the next 15 years. For investors, I would recommend such european companies as Air Liquide or Linde. these companies will be the EXON or SHELL of to-morrow if they are not taken over by the later.

  • http://yrihf.com John Bailo

    The nuclear industry should be applauded for being willing to build into the Hydrogen standard. Hydrogen becomes a method of Energy Exchange, a universal fuel that anyone can create, transport and use with a variety of methods and devices. I look forward to seeing a modern nuclear industry producing hydrogen safely and efficiently.

  • _ds_

    Any source of electricity can be used for electrolysis. Taking nuclear, the most expensive and dangerous source, and using it for producing hydrogen is beyond moronic. What a ridiculous desperate attempt by the nuclear industry to greenwash itself.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Many signs point to a dying nuclear industry.

      In its death throes a beast flails desperately seeking a way to survive….

  • RobS

    This is the most ludicrous idea I’ve heard in a long time. Use nuclear generated base load electricity to electrolyse water to hydrogen, store it which involves moderate losses, then turn it back into electricity in expensive fuel cells. This process has so many losses it just beggars belief that anyone could consider it a serious option, and with the economics of nuclear becoming dimmer all the time adding hydrogen production, storage and fuel cell utilisation to it would blow current costs away.

  • Tiji

    If allowed to move to the next “easy” step in nuclear, then hydrogen from it even other hydrocarbon oil replacements or desalinated water would be cost effective. Current Uranium/Plutonium cycle reactors are not the answer. Thorium cycle LFTR nuclear is a better choice.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Do some research.

      The fact that someone can make a YouTube video which sings the praise of thorium LFTR does not make it a real thing.

      For decades various countries have messed around with thorium reactors and no one has made one that is commercially viable.

      That, however, has not stopped people from claiming that thorium LFTR (or small modular nuclear reactors) are the answer to the world’s energy problems.

      Fact is, this stuff is an unproven idea. And it’s not unproven simply because no one has spent money trying to make it work.

      It’s unproven because attempts to date have not worked.*

      *worked = commercially viable

  • Ross

    Is there any role for next generation breeder reactors to try to reduce the amount of high level waste produced by this albatross?

  • Bob_Wallace

    Here’s the take-home…

    ” the economics need to be improved”

    Damn straight, Spanky. Let’s take the most expensive way to produce power and use it to convert water into an inefficient way to move our vehicles.

    Nuclear: a dying industry flailing around to find a reason to exist….

  • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

    Nuclear power –> hydrogen? Pipe dream.

    Neil

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