Hydrogen has the potential to play a significant role in the nation’s transition to 100% clean energy.
It can be used across multiple sectors to store and deliver usable energy to power the grid, drive industrial processes, or create energy dense fuels needed for long-haul trucks and airplanes.
But, around 95% of the hydrogen currently produced in the United States comes from natural gas—resulting in carbon emissions.
That’s why the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is investing billions to help lower the cost and scale up the production of clean hydrogen by leveraging the nation’s existing energy assets, including nuclear power plants.
How Is Clean Hydrogen Produced?
Most of the hydrogen currently produced in the U.S. is made through steam-methane reforming. In this process, methane reacts with high-temperature steam to produce carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen.
One way to produce hydrogen without emissions is through low- and high-temperature electrolysis by splitting water into pure hydrogen and oxygen. High-temperature electrolyzers use both heat and electricity to split water and are more efficient.
Traditional and advanced nuclear reactors are well-suited to provide this constant heat and electricity needed to produce clean hydrogen, which could open new markets for nuclear power plants.
DOE estimates that a single 1,000-megawatt reactor could produce up to 150,000 tons of hydrogen each year. This could be sold regionally as a commodity for fertilizers, oil refining, steel production, material handling equipment, fuel cell vehicles, or even carbon-neutral synthetic fuels.
Nuclear-Powered Hydrogen Demonstration Projects
DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE) and the Office of Nuclear Energy (NE) have already started teaming up with utilities to support three hydrogen demonstration projects at nuclear power plants.
The three projects include:
Nine Mile Point Nuclear Power Station (Oswego, NY)
DOE supported the construction and installation of a low-temperature electrolysis system at the Nine Mile Point nuclear power plant. The project is the first nuclear-powered clean hydrogen production facility in the U.S. and will use the hydrogen to help cool the plant.
Constellation started generating hydrogen in February 2023.
The utility also partnered with NYSERDA on a separate project to power a fuel cell at the facility and will start providing additional power to the grid in 2025.
Davis–Besse Nuclear Power Station (Oak Harbor, OH)
Energy Harbor is working to demonstrate a low-temperature electrolysis system at the Davis–Besse Nuclear Power Station.
The goal of the project is to prove the technical feasibility and economic benefits of clean hydrogen production, which could facilitate future opportunities for large-scale commercialization.
The single unit reactor is expected to produce clean hydrogen by 2023.
Potential uses could be sold for local manufacturing and transportation services, including fuel for a local bus fleet.
Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant (Red Wing, MN)
Bloom Energy and Xcel Energy are working on a first-of-a-kind project to demonstrate high-temperature electrolysis at the Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant.
The data collected from this demonstration will be used to scale up this process.
Hydrogen production is expected to begin in early 2024.
DOE is continuing to support the development and maturation of clean hydrogen production, including funding for six to 10 regional clean hydrogen hubs across the United States through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. At least one of the hubs will be focused on clean hydrogen production using nuclear energy.
Additional funding, through Inflation Reduction Act, also includes support for clean hydrogen production via tax credits that will award up to $3/kg for low carbon hydrogen.
All of this work supports DOE’s Hydrogen Shot goal of reducing the cost of clean hydrogen by 80% to $1 per 1 kilogram in 1 decade.
Reaching this cost reduction goal would open new markets for hydrogen, in addition to creating more clean energy jobs, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and making America a more competitive actor in the global clean energy market.