How Hydrogen and Nuclear Can Work Together to Support Rapid Decarbonization
Amy Roma and Stephanie Fishman wrote:
One very promising tool that has received a lot of attention lately, and which can be teamed with nuclear, is hydrogen production. Nuclear power plants can supply the required heat and electricity to produce hydrogen without generating any carbon emissions. Using nuclear in place of current energy alternatives in process heat applications, such as those required in hydrogen production, can also result in price stability and increased energy security. Nuclear produced hydrogen can either be used as fuel for generators based on combustion or sold for industrial purposes. As markets incorporate renewable sources of energy and the demand continues to vary – falling during the day and peaking in the early evening as people return home from work – it is becoming more difficult to sustain the supply-demand balance. The operational flexibility and reliability enable nuclear plants to respond to seasonal demand shifts, hourly market pricing changes, and make a nuclear hydrogen combination appealing.
The Catch? Hydrogen has a dirty secret. Despite its immense promise, hydrogen’s dirty secret is that hydrogen’s carbon footprint really depends on how the hydrogen is produced. In fact, there is an entire color spectrum of types of hydrogen classified by the way it is produced. Since hydrogen is not found in free form (H2), it must be separated from other molecules like water or methane, using energy sources. Nearly all hydrogen currently comes from energy produced with fossil fuels or natural gas, where it is bonded with carbon, separated by a process called “steam reforming” and the excess carbon generates carbon dioxide. This type of hydrogen is referred to as “grey” hydrogen to indicate it was created from fossil fuels without capturing the greenhouse gases.
Finally, pink hydrogen is used to describe hydrogen obtained through nuclear energy which emits virtually no pollutants.