Hydrogen from Nuclear Power Test Set at Idaho Lab

A California company that introduced a new electrolyzer technology last year has announced an agreement with Idaho National Laboratory (INL) to test how nuclear energy can create clean hydrogen using the product.

San Jose-based Bloom Energy on May 18 said INL will use the company’s solid oxide, high-temperature electrolyzer to produce carbon-free hydrogen through electrolysis, powered by nuclear generation. Bloom on Tuesday said the electricity generated by nuclear facilities could produce “cost-effective hydrogen,” including during periods when the power grid has an ample supply of electricity. Rather than ramping down to prevent an oversupply of power, the plant can use its electricity to produce hydrogen.

INL, based in Idaho Falls, Idaho, is a nuclear science and technology lab. The facility’s team leads research, development, and demonstration projects to support and expand the use of nuclear energy. The group, like those in other countries, is involved with supporting the growth of a hydrogen economy, a sector with a rapidly growing market as governments and industries worldwide seek to decarbonize their operations.

‘Thermal and Electrical Power’

“The high-temperature electrolyzers take advantage of both the thermal and the electrical power that are available at nuclear power plants,” said Tyler Westover, the Hydrogen and Thermal Systems Group lead at INL. “This expands the markets for nuclear power plants by allowing them to switch between sending power to the electrical grid and producing clean hydrogen for transportation and industry energy sectors.”

Bloom Energy’s electrolyzer, which the company announced in July 2020, converts water (or steam) into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen can then be injected into the natural gas pipeline, or put into storage for future use in a fuel cell. The hydrogen also could be used by fuel cell-powered vehicles, or in industrial processes that consume large amounts of hydrogen.

The company on Tuesday said its electrolyzer “has a higher efficiency than low-temperature electrolyzer technologies, thereby reducing the amount of electricity needed to produce hydrogen. The steam supplied to the electrolyzers can also be generated by the thermal energy produced by the nuclear power plant, bolstering the overall efficiency of hydrogen production further.”

“There’s a heavy focus on carbon-free hydrogen production in establishing the hydrogen economy. As clean hydrogen innovation continues, the emphasis needs to be on efficiency to ensure that electricity from nuclear and renewable sources are used wisely,” Deia Bayoumi, vice president of product management at Bloom Energy, told POWER. Bayoumi said his group expects “to begin the electrolyzer demonstration with Idaho National Laboratory this year.”

Simulate Conditions

The Idaho lab plans to test Bloom Energy’s technology at its Dynamic Energy Testing and Integration Laboratory, a facility where researchers can simulate steam and load-following conditions as if it were already integrated with a nuclear power station. The simulations can provide the opportunity to model operations in a controlled environment.

Venkat Venkataraman, executive vice president and chief technology officer for Bloom, in comments shared with POWER said, “We must think creatively and seek all possible low, zero, and negative carbon solutions to benefit our planet. Harnessing excess energy to produce hydrogen is a solution with a positive impact on global decarbonization efforts and we look forward to working with the team at Idaho National Laboratory to make this a reality. As a result of this pilot, we expect to establish carbon-free hydrogen generation with the highest efficiency of any electrolyzer in the market today.”

An article in the April 2021 issue of POWER outlined the use of fuel cells to produce clean energy, including with the use of hydrogen. Several groups have begun participating in the market, including oil and gas majors such as BP, which recently announced details of what it called the largest hydrogen production project in the UK.

Darrell Proctor is associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).

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