Nuclear Power Plants and Hydrogen – Energy for the Future

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Future Use of Hydrogen

Fuel Cell: Image Courtesy of Necropotame

In today’s world, hybrid electric vehicles are powered by batteries and an internal combustion engine. To recharge the battery, the electric vehicles plug into the power grid, usually at night during the off-peak hours. In the future, hydrogen and oxygen can be combined in a fuel cell to produce external voltage, like a battery, that can drive our automobiles, buses, trains, and many other forms of transportation.

The chemical reaction, oxidation of hydrogen, takes oxygen from the air, and combines it with hydrogen to form water. This produces electricity at low temperatures. Not only transportation will benefit from advances in this area, but stand-alone small-scale stationary generating plants will also be able to provide energy for processing plants and other industries.

Nuclear Power: a New Use

As energy demand and oil prices increase, it’s virtually inevitable that hydrogen use will become a reality. How do we produce hydrogen in the future quantities we may need? Nuclear energy may be the answer. Hydrogen can be produced through the electrolysis of water in nuclear power plants. In fact, “High temperature reactors are very suitable for hydrogen production,” Khamis told Decoded Science. “There is a lot of effort in major countries towards this goal, such as the U.S., Canada, Japan, China and France, with major breakthroughs projected for the future.”

High temperature reactors can not only produce hydrogen, but electricity as well, to meet several needs at once. Each nuclear plant produces the heat, steam and electricity for electrolysis; the breaking down of water into hydrogen and oxygen. “Present nuclear plants are not a major contributor for H2. The demand for energy is more necessary, today,” Dr. Khamis added.  Today’s Light Water Reactor’s (LWR’s) operate under lower temperatures, therefore are not as efficient as the future generation of nuclear reactors.

The new design of nuclear reactors, particularly the high temperature gas reactors (HTGR’s) provide the most potential for a project of this nature. These reactors are more efficient, safe, and economical with higher efficiency for hydrogen production.

Hydrogen For Energy: So What?

Mercedes Fuel Cell Car: Image Courtesy of Comyu

Burning hydrogen produces water vapor with no CO2 or CO. It eventually will be used in fuel cells which are in testing now to drive all forms of transportation. With the higher price of oil, and dependence on fossil fuels, hydrogen offers a viable and green solution. The most effective way for large scale production of hydrogen, with no CO2 emissions, is through electrolysis or thermochemical processing. Electrolysis adapts itself well to the HTGR, a new design of nuclear reactor. This new reactor offers enhanced safety features, the high temperature needed for hydrogen production, and additional energy to power the grid, as well. What does the future bring? Dr. Khamis viewed the future of H2 production through high temperature reactors as,”15 years or so out.”

Sources

Georgia State University. Electrolysis of Water and Fuel Cell Operation. Accessed March 26, 2012.

Hore-Lacy, I.  Hydrogen Production from nuclear power. (2009). The Encyclopedia of Earth. Accessed March 26, 2012.

Fuel Cell & Hydrogen Energy Association. How is Hydrogen Produced? Accessed March 26, 2012.

World Nuclear Association. Transport and the Hydrogen Economy. Accessed March 26, 2012.

Khamis, I. Nuclear power plants can produce hydrogen to fuel the ‘hydrogen economy‘. (2012). 243rd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society. Accessed March 26, 2012.

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