US-Korean partners to build SMR-powered hydrogen production facility

21 April 2023

Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC) of the USA has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with South Korea's Hyundai Engineering and SK E&C to conduct joint research and development for the commercialisation of Hydrogen Micro Hubs over the next five years.

The signing of the MoU (Image: USNC)

The Hydrogen Micro Hub is a facility that produces hydrogen by applying a high-temperature electrolysis process of solid oxide electrolysis cells (SOEC) to the electricity and high-temperature steam generated by USNC's Micro-Modular Reactor (MMR). USNC said that, compared with commercial pressurised water reactors, this technology can generate relatively high-temperature steam, enabling the use of SOEC operating at high temperatures, which can maximise hydrogen production efficiency with less energy.

The three companies plan to construct the first Hydrogen Micro Hub at SK E&C's headquarters in Seoul. Under the agreement, they will jointly conduct research and development on the MMR-SOEC integrated plant for the next five years. Through this, they plan to examine the establishment of a competitive hydrogen production system, and promote continuous research and development and verification for future hydrogen production and supply businesses.

Hyundai Engineering will oversee the MMR-related balance of plant and engineering, procurement and construction activities, while USNC will be responsible for the design, manufacturing and supply of the MMR. SK E&C will establish a nuclear power-based hydrogen production system using Bloom Energy's SOEC and supply hydrogen production equipment.

The MMR design (Image: USNC)

SK E&S has already successfully tested hydrogen production through electrolysis using a 130 kW-scale SOEC facility located at the Bloom SK Fuel Cell manufacturing plant in Gumi, in South Korea's North Gyeongsang province, in cooperation with Bloom Energy and Bloom SK Fuel Cell. In addition to the Hydrogen Micro Hub cooperation, SK E&S is diversifying its "zero carbon emission hydrogen production model" to include pink hydrogen, which is produced by electrolysing water using electricity from nuclear power generation.

"We have signed a three-party agreement to develop an environmentally friendly business that economically produces and supplies hydrogen by combining MMR and SOEC technologies," said Hyundai Engineering CEO Hong Hyun-seong.

SK E&S CEO Park Kyung-il added: "SOEC is a good partner that can take advantage of MMR's advantages by operating at high temperatures and producing high-efficiency hydrogen with minimal energy consumption."

"The Hydrogen Micro Hub is an efficient and economical hydrogen production plant that can produce hydrogen on a scale required at the local site," said USNC CEO Francesco Venneri. "The three companies - SK E&S, Hyundai Engineering, and USNC - will contribute to the efficient establishment of a hydrogen economy based on the MMR-SOEC integrated plant."

USNC's MMR is a 15 MW thermal, 5 MW electrical high-temperature gas-cooled reactor, drawing on operational experience from reactors developed by China, Germany, Japan and the USA. It consists of two plants: the nuclear plant that generates heat, and the adjacent power plant that converts heat into electricity or provides process heat for industrial applications. The USNC system is designed to be simple, with minimal operation and maintenance requirements, and no on-site fuel storage, handling or processing. The MMR uses TRISO fuel in prismatic graphite blocks and has a sealed transportable core.

The MMR is at an advanced licensing stage at the Atomic Energy of Canada Limited's Chalk River Laboratories campus in Ontario. The project is a collaboration between USNC and Ontario Power Generation through the jointly owned Global First Power Limited Partnership.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News