JAEA, MHI team up for HTTR hydrogen project

25 April 2022

The Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) will establish a demonstration hydrogen production project at the High-Temperature Test Reactor (HTTR) in Oarai, Ibaraki Prefecture.

The planned hydrogen production plant at the HTTR (Image: MHI)

JAEA and MHI have been commissioned to set up the project by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry's Agency for Natural Resources and Energy (ANRE) as part of Japan's efforts to attain carbon neutrality in 2050.

The ANRE launched a tender on 8 February for a demonstration project for the use of the HTTR for the mass production of hydrogen. JAEA - operator of the HTTR - selected MHI, which is conducting technical studies on hydrogen production using the mechanism and high-temperature gas reactors, as the contractor for the project.

Together, starting later this year, JAEA and MHI will carry out the conversion, licensing procedure, equipment modification and testing in stages. In addition, in order to advance the hydrogen production technology in the HTTR in the future, they will consider increasing the size of some equipment (for example, the high-temperature isolation valve) to enable large-scale hydrogen production, and combine it with the high-temperature gas reactor.

The organisations will also investigate carbon-free hydrogen production technologies that can utilise the high-temperature heat of high-temperature gas reactors, and consider hydrogen production methods that can be expected to improve hydrogen production efficiency by comparing each technology.

"Through this project, JAEA and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries will confirm the hydrogen production technology using ultra-high temperature heat of high temperature gas reactors, etc, and will lead to the realisation of mass and stable carbon-free hydrogen production," they said in a joint statement.

The 30 MWt graphite-moderated helium gas-cooled HTTR achieved first criticality in November 1998 and reached full power operation in 2001. It demonstrated stable heat at 950°C over 50 days in 2010. Its fuel is ceramic-coated particles with low-enriched (average 6%) uranium incorporated into hexagonal graphite prisms, giving it a high level of inherent safety. It is designed to establish a basis for the commercialisation of second-generation helium-cooled plants running at high temperatures for either industrial applications or to drive direct cycle gas turbines. The reactor resumed operation on 30 July last year, having been idle since February 2011 when it was taken offline for planned inspections.

Japan's Basic Energy Plan - approved by the government in October 2021 - states that high-temperature gas reactors will be used in the production of hydrogen. In addition, the Green Growth Strategy for 2050 Carbon Neutral (released in June 2021) says it will be necessary to utilise the HTTR to produce large quantities and inexpensive carbon-free hydrogen by 2030.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News