Hydrogen has the potential to significantly cut emissions in various sectors, including transportation, industry, and power generation. One way hydrogen can help nuclear power plants continue to operate is through the use of hydrogen as a coolant in nuclear reactors. Currently, many nuclear power plants use water as a coolant to transfer heat away from the reactor core; however, hydrogen has a higher heat transfer coefficient than water, which means it can transfer heat away from the reactor core more efficiently. This can help to increase the efficiency of the nuclear reactor, reducing the amount of fuel needed to generate the same amount of power.
Hydrogen can also be produced using renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, and can be stored for later use. This means that nuclear power plants could use hydrogen as a backup power source when renewable energy sources are not available. By using hydrogen as a backup power source, nuclear power plants could reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and help to reduce emissions.
Overall, the use of hydrogen in nuclear power plants has the potential to improve the efficiency of the power generation process, reduce emissions, and increase the reliability of the power supply.
Constellation, one of the utilities working on creating hydrogen at their current facilities, has announced that their Nine Mile Point nuclear power plant in Oswego, New York, has begun clean hydrogen production with their electrolyzer system.
In 2022, the US Department of Energy (DOE) approved the construction and installation of an electrolyzer system at Nine Mile Point with an award of $5.8 million. The project is funded by the DOE’s Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office, through their H2@Scale Program.
The Hydrogen Generation System at Nine Mile Point is one of four projects supported by the DOE to demonstrate clean hydrogen production at commercial nuclear power plants.
The Nine Mile Point Hydrogen Generation System – Proton Exchange Membrane – uses 1.25 megawatt of zero-carbon energy per hour to separate hydrogen and oxygen atoms in water, producing 560 kilograms of hydrogen per day. This is sufficient to meet Constellation’s need for on-site hydrogen demand to help cool the power plant. In the past the plant relied on trucked-in deliveries of hydrogen made from fossil fuels. Constellation said the facility will also prepare for possible large-scale deployments at other clean energy centers in the company’s fleet that would couple clean hydrogen production with storage and other on-site uses.
As part of its broader decarbonization strategy, Constellation is currently working with public and private entities representing every phase in the hydrogen value chain to pursue development of regional hydrogen production and distribution hubs and has committed to invest $900 million up to 2025 for commercial clean hydrogen production using nuclear energy.
“Hydrogen will be an indispensable tool in solving the climate crisis, and Nine Mile Point is going to show the world that nuclear power is the most efficient and cost-effective way to make it from a carbon-free resource,” said Constellation President and CEO Joe Dominguez. “In partnership with DOE and others, we see this technology creating a pathway to decarbonizing industries that remain heavily reliant on fossil fuels, while creating clean-energy jobs and strengthening domestic energy security.”
Commenting on the start-up of the Nine Mile Point hydrogen production facility, US Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Kathryn Huff said: “This accomplishment tangibly demonstrates that our nation’s existing reactor fleet can produce clean hydrogen today.
“DOE is proud to support cost-shared projects like this to deliver affordable clean hydrogen. The investments we’re starting to make now through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act will even further expand the hydrogen market to create new economic and environmental benefits for nuclear energy.”
According to the DOE, about 95% of the hydrogen produced in the USA is currently sourced from fossil fuels.