UK cross-sector report plans zero-carbon hydrogen from nuclear

15 July 2021

The UK's Nuclear Sector Deal’s Innovation Group on 14 July published a new report, “Unlocking the UK’s Nuclear Hydrogen Economy to Support Net Zero”. The 16-page report, a cross-sector action plan for consideration by the Nuclear Industry Council, offers 10 recommendations for realising the opportunity of zero-carbon hydrogen from nuclear energy. It follows a Nuclear Hydrogen Roundtable event, which brought together over 80 experts and industry leaders from across the hydrogen value chain.

In her Foreword to the report, Fiona Rayment, chair of the Innovation Group and chief science & technology officer at National Nuclear Laboratory, says: "The production of hydrogen from nuclear energy only requires today’s technologies to generate hydrogen with zero emissions. Driving nuclear hydrogen production today will de-risk the UK energy transition as we strive for net zero. A cross-sector approach, working collaboratively across the entire hydrogen value chain, will enable us to achieve economic prosperity and global leadership in delivering a nuclear hydrogen economy. The opportunity is enormous and this is the backbone of our action plan."

She noted that the publication in February of the Nuclear Industry Association’s (NIA) Hydrogen Roadmap, which was endorsed by the Nuclear Industry Council, had already outlined how nuclear could contribute to the future hydrogen economy. “We must not underestimate how enormous this opportunity is. The potential of clean hydrogen as a global export commodity will realise export opportunities beyond anything else we have seen in the UK’s nuclear and hydrogen industry.”

She added: “Crucially, to achieve what is needed for the UK, we must look beyond the nuclear sector and engage with the broader policy and industry landscape. This is why I was delighted to chair the Nuclear Hydrogen Roundtable in May 2021. Timed to offer maximum value ahead of the Government publishing its Hydrogen Strategy, the Roundtable brought together some of the most influential minds from both nuclear and the wider energy sectors.

It focused on identifying the challenges and actions required in Policy, Finance, Economics, Technology and Regulation to enable the UK to benefit from nuclear-derived clean hydrogen.”

The report summarises the findings that:

  • Nuclear-derived hydrogen can be a low-risk route to additional hydrogen production that should be recognised by all stakeholders.
  • The nuclear sector, in a cross-sector approach, could deliver gigawatts of flexible generation today. By 2050, 12GW of dedicated production could support the energy transition.
  • Rapid development and delivery of the first use case will demonstrate the entire value chain from production to user, and contribute to meeting current policy targets.

Rayment noted: “I very much hope and expect that, given its scope and timing, this document will be seen as a turning point for the role of nuclear in the future hydrogen economy and a call to action for the sector to take this one-time opportunity and grab it with both hands.”

The report’s 10 recommendations cover five areas for actions “now and “next” and each come “with an industry promise and a government ask”:

  • Economic – Now, embed the nuclear hydrogen economy taking appropriate measures to deliver "an immediate term use case" for nuclear-derived zero carbon hydrogen to activate the market. The government is asked to consider economic support to create a first use case. Next, establish the hydrogen economy and incentivise the market by establishing support schemes to incentivise the full hydrogen value chain for a range of markets, building on the first use case. The government is asked to consider appropriate capital funding agreements and economic support to enable the range of use case across the hydrogen economy.
  • Technical – Now, enhance and grow a complete UK hydrogen ecosystem to bring the UK supply chain capability to its full potential across the hydrogen value chain and capitalise on future export markets. The government is asked to consider investments that will initiate development of the supply chain talent pipeline Next, deliver future technologies and enable technology innovation with funding to accelerate technology innovation to increase efficiencies and scalability, utilising heat and electricity from NPPs, and innovation in demand side technology. The government is asked to enable innovation investment for the development of nuclear coupled hydrogen systems beyond the first use case.
  • Regulatory – Now, enable accelerated deployment through innovative regulation and active collaboration between regulators and industry to accelerate deployment of technologies for delivery of nuclear-derived hydrogen. The government is asked to support implementation of a working group to enable accelerated deployment of nuclear hydrogen generation and storage. Next, capitalise on the full potential of an export market by harmonising international standards. The government is asked to support and promote development of harmonised standards internationally through the IAEA, OECD-NEA and other relevant forums.
  • Policy – Now, deliver a siting strategy that supports the need for levelling up of UK regions. The government is asked to consult on appropriate siting policy for nuclear-derived hydrogen beyond the existing nuclear siting policy. Next, maximise the proposition for nuclear hydrogen products enabling policies that will embrace the potential for nuclear to decarbonise sectors such as heavy industry, transport and direct heat. The government is asked to include nuclear-derived hydrogen in the Heat and Buildings Strategy and Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy, and to consider making available appropriate funding streams to enable nuclear hydrogen feasibility studies.
  • Finance – Now, instil investor and public confidence in nuclear hydrogen products through a focused effort on communicating the benefits of nuclear hydrogen products to demonstrate the societal value of nuclear-derived hydrogen. The government is asked to support inclusion of nuclear on government advisory bodies, such as the Hydrogen Advisory Council. Next, create a route to commercialisation, unlocking finance by defining a low (and zero) carbon hydrogen standard now to ensure consistent access to finance and market mechanisms for all relevant technologies as they are commercialised. The government is asked to support inclusion of nuclear-derived hydrogen in incentive structures designed to support deployment of zero carbon energy solutions and to consider a full systems approach in understanding costs of nuclear hydrogen.

The report concludes that current nuclear technology can make a difference to the hydrogen economy now and in the future. “We believe the key to unlocking the nuclear hydrogen economy is cross-sector collaboration, with the entire hydrogen value chain working together to achieve success. This is the backbone of our action plan.

Achieving success will require an industry and government partnership focused on the outcomes described in this report.

We look to secure a way forward on nuclear-derived hydrogen through the existing partnership between industry and government (Nuclear Industry Council), turning these recommendations into reality.”

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