IAEA to create roadmap for nuclear hydrogen deployment

06 May 2022

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has launched an initiative to develop a roadmap for the commercial deployment of hydrogen production using nuclear energy. The initiative will culminate in a roadmap guiding document, to provide countries with a tool for evaluating, planning and strategising the development of nuclear hydrogen projects.

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Currently, hydrogen is used in industrial processes ranging from producing synthetic fuels and petrochemicals to manufacturing semiconductors and powering fuel cell electric vehicles. Almost all of this hydrogen is produced using fossil fuels. In order to decrease the environmental impact of the annual production of more than 70 million tonnes of hydrogen, some countries are looking to renewables, such as solar and wind, as well as nuclear power as a replacement for fossil fuels.

Some 28 countries and four international organisations joined the IAEA roadmap initiative at its launch in Vienna last month to discuss their nuclear hydrogen plans or projects. These include demonstrations of hydrogen production using existing reactors as well as plans using advanced reactors, such as small modular reactors, to increase efficiency and allow for scaling up production.

The initiative brings together decision makers, designers, project managers and operators to share the latest advances in national strategies and technologies and to identify technical readiness for different technologies of hydrogen production using nuclear energy.

"Today the vast majority of hydrogen needed across industries is manufactured using fossil fuel technologies (primarily natural gas), but nuclear energy has the potential to deliver both the electricity and the heat needed for hydrogen production in a sustainable, low-carbon and cost-effective manner," said Alina Constantin, an IAEA nuclear engineer and co-leader of the project.

"However, several challenges related to technology, economics, safety and licensability, as well as policy support and stakeholder involvement need to be addressed over the next decade, demonstrating feasibility and allowing the shift to commercial-scale production, if nuclear is to play a role in the production of hydrogen for the clean energy transition."

Using its new FRAmework for the Modelling of Energy Systems (FRAMES), the IAEA recently found that as gas prices increase, the optimal mix of technologies for producing low-carbon hydrogen shifts in favour of nuclear and renewable energy and away from natural gas with or without carbon capture and storage. When natural gas prices rise above USD20 per million British thermal units (BTU), the FRAMES study showed that the optimal method of hydrogen production becomes a mix of electrolysis-produced hydrogen from electricity supplied by a combination of renewables and conventional nuclear power plants and thermal processes that can eventually be supplied by advanced high-temperature reactors.

"The analysis also found that hydrogen production powered by heat from advanced technologies such as high temperature gas cooled reactors (HTGRs) was highly competitive in those price scenarios," said Francesco Ganda, the IAEA Technical Lead for Non-Electric Applications and lead author of the analysis. "HTGRs are under development in several countries and prototypes are already operating in China and Japan."

The IAEA provides support to countries interested in hydrogen production through initiatives including coordinated research projects (CRPs) and technical meetings. It has also developed the Hydrogen Economic Evaluation Programme, a tool for assessing the economics of large-scale hydrogen production via nuclear energy. It has also led a CRP on Examining the Technoeconomics of Nuclear Hydrogen Production, and is concluding a follow-up CRP on Assessing Technical and Economic Aspects of Nuclear Hydrogen Production for Near-term Deployment.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News