The UK-based New Nuclear Watch Institute (NNWI), an industry supported think-tank, has published a 28-page report “On the Role of Nuclear Power in the Development of a European Hydrogen Economy”.

NNWI says the scale-up of clean hydrogen production, along with the decrease in cost that will accompany it, is vital for the transition to a decarbonised energy system.

It notes: “The focus of policy to date has been directed towards increasing production using electricity generated by renewables, ignoring the potential role of other low-carbon power sources, notably nuclear power.”

The report surveys the potential of hydrogen as a decarbonising agent as well as the state of present-day policy and makes clear the valuable role that nuclear-produced hydrogen can play in hastening the development of a widespread hydrogen deployment.

Nuclear-produced hydrogen, using electrolyser technology, could make a "sizeable contribution" to the development of the hydrogen economy but any benefits will depend on the adoption of technology-neutral policies, which do not discriminate against nuclear power.

The NNWI study found that per unit of installed electrolyser capacity, nuclear power can produce 5.45 times more clean hydrogen that solar and 2.23 times more than wind. Moreover, the land area required to produce hydrogen using nuclear power is considerably less than that required by renewable sources. For example, an offshore wind farm would require 1400 times more land area to produce the same hydrogen as a conventional 1000 MWe nuclear plant.

The report also takes to task the European Commission's “A Hydrogen Strategy for a Climate-Neutral Europe”, published in July 2020. This sets out how hydrogen can support the decarbonisation of industry, transport, power generation and buildings. However, it does not mention nuclear power as a 'low-carbon' electricity source.

NNWI says the decision of the EU to set its long-term aim on purely 'renewable hydrogen' production, at the expense of other 'low-carbon' sources of production such as nuclear power, may also delay investment in the associated infrastructure required by a broad-based hydrogen economy. "This technological prejudice is to the detriment of the strategy on a number of fronts," it notes.

By granting nuclear no long-term role in European Strategy, it “greatly weakens the commercial incentive for nuclear and hydropower producers to invest not only in production technologies (electrolysers) but also the broader hydrogen network infrastructure (including storage and distribution/transmission channels) and workforce skills development that are required.”

In its conclusions, the study notes that:

The inclusion of nuclear-produced hydrogen reduces reliance on imported hydrogen, allowing for the avoidance of transport costs as well as contributing to energy security, and contributes to wider industrial strategy.Nuclear plants are able to provide the hydrogen market with greater scale in production than are renewables and so provide greater stimulus to potential end-users as well as the development of an integrated hydrogen network.It has made clear the ramifications of reliance on renewable hydrogen in relation to land requirements.In the near-term, using nuclear power to produce hydrogen is likely to result in a cost advantagecompared with using renewables, which is another important determinant of early and medium- stage market development.

NNWI also looks at the hydrogen strategies, technologies and projects  of nuclear companies, focusing in particular on those of France’s EDF and Russia’s Rosatom.

EDF's explores possibility for hydrogen

EDF has been exploring hydrogen for some time, particularly within EDF’s Eifer laboratory and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany. In 2018, EDF acquired a 21.7% stake in McPhy, a manufacturer of electrolysers, committed to the production of low-carbon hydrogen.

In 2019, EDF published an R&D paper, titled the White Paper on Low Carbon Hydrogen and subsequently launched a new subsidiary, Hynamics, offering turnkey solutions for the generation and distribution of carbon-free hydrogen using electrolysis for industrial and mobility applications. At the end of March 2019, Hynamics, had identified and begun to work on 40 target projects in France, Belgium, Germany and the UK.

Both Hynamics and McPhy produce hydrogen via water electrolysis using electrolysers, which do not emit CO2, as long as the electricity used itself comes from low-carbon sources. In 2018, McPhy presented a modular electrolysis system capable of scaling from 4MWe to over 100MWe, capable of producing 8.5 tonnes of hydrogen a day from a 20 MWe continuous input. In 2019, McPhy launched Augmented McFilling’, a software to increase the efficiency of hydrogen refuelling stations.

EDF along with the European Institute for Energy Research (EIFER), Atkins and Lancaster University is assessing plans for hydrogen production powered by its fleet of UK nuclear plants, including Hinkley Point C and the proposed plant at Sizewell C. A feasibility assessment on the viability of low-carbon production using electrolysis at Heysham Power Station in the UK was also conducted. EDF estimates that a future electrolyser capacity of about 550MW across its fleet could produce about 220,000kg of hydrogen a day by 2035, with a levelised cost of hydrogen as low as £1.89/kg ($2.44/kg).

EDF leads the Moorside Clean Energy Hub in North West England, which has proposed group of nuclear projects in the area, including a new 3.2 GW EPR power station, small modular reactors and advanced modular reactors. The Hub is also exploring the provision of clean heat to industry ascwell as the possibility of becoming a centre of green hydrogen production for transport and industry.

Rosatom's ambitious in the hydrogen market

Rosatom similarly supports ambitious estimates for the growth of the commercial hydrogen market including setting up large-scale production and the export of low-carbon hydrogen to the APAC region and the EU, while preparing to participate in local hydrogen production and use projects in Russia and Europe.

Rosatom has been involved in hydrogen production and associated technologies for decades, integrating the hydrogen economy into its corporate research and wider development strategy, NNWI says. Its development programme, ‘Nuclear Science, Engineering, and Technology’ seeks to advance hydrogen-related activities.

In the latest national Energy Strategy,  set to run until 2035, hydrogen is listed as the seventh most important component of the energy sector. Russia’s first national hydrogen energy development roadmap, adopted in October 2020, outlines plans to 2024. It was developed by a Ministry of Energy working group including Rosatom, Gazprom, and Sberbank as well as policymakers and Academics.

Although Russia’s hydrogen production is limited to domestic use, Deputy Energy Minister Pavel Sorokin hopes to see exports of 200,000 tonnes a year by 2024 and 2 million tonnes by 2035. Russia is considering several scenarios for transmission, including via gas pipelines as well as by ship in various chemical conditions.

“Hydrogen energy” is a key priority vector of scientific and technological development and a promising strategic business growth priority for Rosatom, NNWI notes. There is significant technological, scientific and research potential to develop principal hydrogen production methods including steam methane reforming and electrolysis. In the next 2-3 years Rosatom plans to supply its first designed technologies for hydrogen production, storage and transportation and claims to favour cooperation for the production of equipment with companies from other countries including localisation of such production in Russia.

Rosatom runs an extensive R&D programme on hydrogen technologies including production, storage, transportation and utilisation.

In Autumn 2019, Rosatom signed a memorandum of understanding with Sakhalin Region and other Russian companies to develop a hydrogen-powered train service on Sakhalin island, taking on the role of the hydrogen supplier to the project. In 2019 Rosatom signed an Agreement with Japan’s Ministry of Energy, Trade and Industry to jointly conduct a feasibility study on the potential of hydrogen exports from Russia to Japan.

The potential for low carbon hydrogen production is also assessed in western Russia where nuclear power plants are located. It is assumed that excess power capacities could be utilised for hydrogen production via electrolysis for local supplies in Russia and for export to Europe and Asia.

Rosatom is looking into opportunities to participate in local industry and transport decarbonisation projects in Europe and Russia, where it could act as a developer, investor, owner and operator of green hydrogen production facilities for industrial users such as oil refineries and steel manufacturers.

Learn more in a webinar

The New Nuclear Watch Institute is hosting a webinar, today, 17 December. Register here:

Date: Friday, 18 December 2020
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