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Global nuclear body launches commercial hydrogen production roadmap initiative

Article Republished By Javier Troconis

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has announced that it is to develop a roadmap for the commercial scale production of hydrogen using nuclear power. This was because hydrogen was forecast to play a central role in future clean energy systems, especially in the ‘hard to abate’ sectors of the economy, such as steel, chemicals, and the various transport sectors.

“Today the vast majority of hydrogen needed across industries is manufactured using fossil fuel technologies (primarily natural gas), but nuclear energy has the potential to deliver both the electricity and the heat needed for hydrogen production in a sustainable, low-carbon and cost-effective manner,” highlighted IAEA nuclear engineer and project co-leader Alina Constantin. “However, several challenges related to technology, economics, safety and licensability, as well as policy support and stakeholder involvement, need to be addressed over the next decade, demonstrating feasibility and allowing the shift to commercial scale production, if nuclear is to play a role in the production of hydrogen for the clean energy transition.”

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Until now, the use of nuclear power to produce hydrogen has been uneconomic. But the current global energy crisis has both driven up the prices of fossil fuels and undermined the security of supply. The result was increasing interest, around the world, in using nuclear energy to produce hydrogen. Consequently, about 28 countries and four organisations had joined the IAEA roadmap initiative.

A recent IAEA ‘Framework for the Modelling of Energy Systems’ study established that, when natural gas prices went above the $20/million British thermal units (BTU) mark, the optimal option for hydrogen production was through electrolysis, powered by a mix of nuclear and renewable energy. Recently, within the European Union, natural gas prices have been fluctuating around the $30/million BTU level.

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“The analysis also found that hydrogen production powered by heat from advanced technologies such a high temperature gas cooled reactors (HTGRs) was highly competitive in those price scenarios,” reported IAEA Technical Lead for Non-Electric Applications and study lead author Francesco Ganda. “HTGRs are under development in several countries and prototypes are already operating in China and Japan.”

“The key to success for nuclear-produced hydrogen will be finding the right opportunities that combine a strong business case and nuclear electricity and heat from existing or new nuclear power plants with applications that offer significant decarbonising potential,” pointed out Canadian Nuclear Laboratories Hydrogen and Tritium Technologies Directorate head Ian Castillo. “Wherever possible, existing infrastructure such as natural gas pipelines and repurposed coal-fired plant sites should be used.” 

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