Striking a hydrogen pose

11 May 2004

The US Department of Energy (DoE) has released its Hydrogen Posture Plan (HPP) as part of its measures to prepare the USA to shift to a hydrogen-based economy. In 2003, president Bush announced a $1.2 billion initiative to bring the change, and the DoE responded by producing a National Hydrogen Energy Technology Roadmap, setting out research, development and demonstration steps that lead the way to the fundamental change in energy use. The HPP is meant to help combine the roadmap with current and future R&D into a combined Hydrogen Program.

For the key transportation sector, the plan envisages a period of R&D extending from now until as far ahead as 2030, with technologies entering the market from about 2010. It proposes that a ‘commercialization decision’ could come in about 2015.

The report classifies nuclear along with renewables as a desirable method to produce hydrogen and announces the DoE’s Nuclear Hydrogen Initiative. The Office of Nuclear Energy, Science & Technology “will work with its partners to demonstrate the commercial-scale production of hydrogen” using nuclear heat by 2017, naming high-temperature electrolysis and sulfur-based cycles as avenues of R&D. It notes that several VHTR designs and some selected under GIF are well suited for hydrogen production.

Key milestones in hydrogen technology development include the ability to generate hydrogen from carbon-captured coal and wind for around $1.50 per gallon of gasoline equivalent (gge) and deliver that via pipelines and road at a cost of $1.00/gge. A date of 2011 is pencilled in for a pilot-scale trial of nuclear hydrogen generation at a cost of $2.50/gge, and 2017 for an ‘engineering-scale’ demonstration plant capable of producing for $2.00/gge. Buzz Savage of the DoE’s Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative recently told the Pacific Basin Nuclear Conference in Hawaii that such a plant would be an advanced VHTR rated at 600MWt with a 1000°C outlet, burning Triso coated fuel.

As part of a diverse infrastructure capable of producing the 40 million tons of hydrogen needed to power 150 million vehicles, the report envisages 200 nuclear plants generating hydrogen by electrolysis, with 125 using thermo-chemical processes. In total, over 500GWt of nuclear generated power would be used for hydrogen production.

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