Could Nuclear Help Birth the Hydrogen Economy?

New nuclear plants could be adapted to make hydrogen for fuel, an Austrian scientist told the world’s largest scientific society.

At last month’s annual meeting of the American Chemical Society, Ibrahim Khamis, Ph.D., said that scientists and economists at IAEA and elsewhere are working intensively to determine how nuclear power reactors could be enlisted in hydrogen production.

image via ChinaEnergySector.com

Until now, fossil fuels such as coal and methane have typically been used to provide the electricity needed to make hydrogen, but climate friendly sources such as wind and solar (both from normal solar installations, as well as at the nanosolar scale) as well as from methane made from sewage, are all being investigated as future sources that do not depend on fossil fuels.

Oddly, nuclear reactors have been largely left out in the rush to find less carbon-intensive ways to split the hydrogen out of water for the hydrogen economy. Yet nuclear plants already produce the heat for changing water into steam and the electricity for breaking the steam down into hydrogen and oxygen.

Because of the dangers of nuclear power, building nuclear plants in developed economies have proven to be very expensive. The potential danger has led to extreme caution in regulating new nuclear plants, resulting in expensive delays and high insurance costs. Yet even current plants could be used to split hydrogen from water.

“Nuclear hydrogen from electrolysis of water or steam is a reality now, yet the economics need to be improved,” said Khamis.

While he didn’t mention any countries specifically, he noted that some countries are now considering construction of new nuclear plants that include high-temperature steam electrolysis (HTSE) stations that would allow them to generate hydrogen gas on a large scale.

Susan Kraemer enjoys writing to publicize the many great solutions for climate change that we can find if we just put our minds to it. She covers renewable policy and clean energy for CleanTechnica and GreenProphet and green building at HomeDesignFind. She recently moved home to Waiheke Island where her writing is now powered by the 80% renewable electricity that powers New Zealand.

  • Roy J Stewart

    It seems absurd to Create Clean Fuel E(H2e),
    using the most Poisonous Fuel known!

    Solar, wind Okay, but Nuclear . . . NEVER!
    Those folks just want to prolong their Incomee Stream!

  • Warren

    Sir:  As an ex-nuclear research engineer for GE, I know nuclear’s dirty secrets.  Currently, 50% of existing U.S. nuclear reactors have damage pumps, piping and other parts. In addition, the cost for producing electricity is too high according to the IAEA commision.
    The nuclear reactors are “deadly dinosaurs” that need to be shut down and dismantled before a U.S. style Fukusima happens.  (see my article:  http://www.energypulse.org 2005)
          The Chernobyl explosion was caused by hydrogen.  Today, the cancer rate for
    children 9-16 years old is three times the national average in Ukraine.

  • Mark Tebbutt

    Clean water is going to become are more scare resource as rainfall levels decline in large area of the world due to the impacts of climate. With fuel cell efficient at only 50% I humbley don’t see h2 production via electrolysis scaling to power 1 billion vehicles. It would be far more prudent to use that overnight electricity surplus to charge electric battery vechicles 90% efficient batteries.

  • Warren

    Mark:  You are forgetting that we have several oceans full of water that is easily used
    to generate hydrogen.  Do not even to remove the salt.
           Yes, San Diego is a water short city.
    Warren