Nuclear Power Plants and Hydrogen – Energy for the Future

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There are two parts hydrogen to every one part of oxygen in water: Image by Solkoll

The use of hydrogen is significant today, but tomorrow the demand could increase for a future of domestic energy use. Currently, we use hydrogen to make nitrogen fertilizers, to convert  low-grade crude oils into transport fuels, and to process other chemicals. But in the future, as oil becomes more expensive, hydrogen could become the fuel of choice, to drive transportation and replace gasoline, diesel, and other fossil fuels. World consumption is already at 50 million tons per year of H2, and is growing at about 10% per year. The best part is, the technology is already available to produce hydrogen cheaply with a dramatic reduction in pollution. Hydrogen production is clean, and burning hydrogen releases only water vapor with no CO2. Nuclear power plants are ideal for this task: the production of hydrogen in large quantities. So, let’s talk about it.

Producing Hydrogen

Although hydrogen is common, it does not exist in nature by itself. It is part of other compounds such as water, H2O.  Therefore, to get H2 from compounds, we must add energy through heat absorption to break the molecules apart. “There are two main ways for producing H2; thermochemical and electrolysis of water,” according to Dr. Ibrahim Khamis, IAEA.

  • Thermochemical processes combine heat with chemicals to separate the water molecule into hydrogen and oxygen. This is a closed loop cycle where water is supplied and the chemicals are by-products of the final reaction and reused again.
  • In high temperature electrolysis, energy is passed through the water which causes the water molecule to dissociated and produce H2 and 1/2 O2. About  96% of hydrogen, today,  is made from fossil fuels: 50 % natural gas, 30 % from liquid hydrocarbons and 18 % from coal. The most current hydrogen separation processes use fossil fuels to raise the temperature and separate H2 from either water or natural gas. This process releases  CO2, which adds to environmental pollution.

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