US-based Bloom Energy on 18 May announced an agreement with Idaho National Laboratory (INL) to independently test the use of nuclear energy to create clean hydrogen through Bloom Energy's solid oxide, high-temperature electrolyser.
This carbon-free hydrogen is obtained through electrolysis that is powered by nuclear generation. When the electric grid has ample power, rather than ramping down power generation, the electricity generated by nuclear plants can be used to produce cost-effective hydrogen in support of the burgeoning hydrogen economy.
Bloom Energy's electrolyser converts water (or steam) into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen can then be injected into the natural gas pipeline, stored and used for power generation with a fuel cell at a later time, dispensed to fuel cell vehicles, or used by industrial processes that consume large amounts of hydrogen. Bloom’s electrolyser is more efficient than low-temperature electrolyser technologies, reducing the amount of electricity needed to produce hydrogen. The steam supplied to the electrolysers can also be generated by the thermal energy produced by the nuclear power plant, bolstering the overall efficiency of hydrogen production further.
INL will test the electrolysers at the Dynamic Energy Testing and Integration Laboratory in Idaho where researchers can simulate steam and load following conditions as if it were already integrated with a nuclear power station. These simulations will provide the opportunity to model operations in a controlled environment.
"The high-temperature electrolysers 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."
Venkat Venkataraman, executive vice president and chief technology officer at Bloom 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 decarbonisation efforts.” He added: "As a result of this pilot, we expect to establish carbon-free hydrogen generation with the highest efficiency of any electrolyser in the market today."