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DOE Funds $1.4 Million for Study of Nuclear-Powered Hydrogen Production

14 August 2006

Ge_alky2
Proof of concept plastic alkaline electrolyzer stack.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) intends to fund approximately $1.4 million (subject to negotiation) for two projects to partner with industry to study the economic feasibility of producing hydrogen at existing commercial nuclear power plants.

Teams selected by DOE for funding will be headed by Electric Transportation Applications and GE Global Research. Both teams include DOE national laboratories and nuclear utility companies as partners.

Electric Transportation Applications plans to perform a study looking at the economics of producing hydrogen at existing nuclear power plants using commercially available production technology. ETA will partner with DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory and Arizona Public Service.

Ge_alky1
Basics of the alkaline electrolyzer design. Click to enlarge.

GE Global Research proposes a feasibility study of hydrogen production using alkaline electrolysis powered by existing nuclear power plants. Their proposal is based on the low-cost alkaline electrolyzer technology developed by GE, in part under DOE’s Hydrogen Program. Partners for this project include DOE’s National Renewable Energy Lab and the Entergy Corporation.

GE alkaline electrolysis is designed to reduce capital costs significantly below that required by conventional electrolyzers. Use of a plastic (Noryl) and epoxy reduces the assembly cost of the stack. GE spray-coats the electrodes with a proprietary nickel-based catalyst with a high surface area to reduce the size of the electrode, thereby reducing stack size.

DOE is also funding longer-term research on the production of hydrogen from next-generation nuclear plants. (Earlier post.)

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August 14, 2006 in Hydrogen, Nuclear | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)

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Comments

Lipstick on a Pig.

Don't talk about your wife that way.

High temp electrolysis, it would use the waste heat from these nuke power plants. Heck, it would use waste heat from coal plants, steel mills, oil refineries, cement plants, anything that produces large quantities of high temperature (>212F) waste heat.

Very low capital cost electrolyzers would be great for using off-peak power from nuclear plants. They'd also be great for producing hydrogen from wind. They'd be scalable source of dispatchable demand, which utilities should like.

Paul,
Nuke plants, like many coal fired ones, are used mainly for base loads. That said, the waste heat is still an issue, so any way to utilize already present energy is welcomed. Now, how do we store it?

Nuke plants, like many coal fired ones, are used mainly for base loads.

That's right. If a dispatchable market for the off-peak power from baseload plants could be found, a larger fraction of the grid's power could come from such plants. This would allow nuclear to displace natural gas fueled turbines.

Of course, the electrolyzers don't care where the power is coming from, or precisely when, so this work also has implications for wind.

Waste heat is really only useful for electrolysis when it's of high quality. At 1000 C, for example, the voltage needed is reduced by 25%, IIRC.

I don't see how GE can justify the proposed study as having anything to do with nuclear power specifically. The alkaline electrolysis cells that they're talking about are liquid water electrolyte--strictly low temp unless you want to count the 150 C you might get to with presurization.

At that temperature, there's no point to an external heat source. Just put a little insulation around the cells, and let the waste energy from the electrolysis process heat them. With luck, you might get 100% of input electrical energy converted to pressurized H2 and O2. More likely, you'd get less, and have to cool the cells.

BTW, does anybody reading this have a good answer as to why the round-trip efficiency of electricity -> hydrogen -> electricity is as bad as hydrogen detractors insist it is? I can't see any fundamental reason why it couldn't be as good as any other storage battery, but people like Ulf Bossel disagree.

For the record, I didn't notice Paul's post immediately ahead of mine when I wrote it. Appologies for the overlap. But I'll take the opportunity to ask another question:

GE's been touting their new alkaline cells as a breakthrough in the cost of electrolysis, but why just for electrlysis? What's the salient difference between an electrolysis cell and a fuel cell? In my old college chemistry labs, there was none. Push current through in one direction, and H2 and O2 bubbled off from the electrodes. Bubble H2 and O2 from an external source over the electrodes, and you got current out.

Of course, that was just a lab experiment, and the flows involved were pretty miniscule. But I've always thought of fuel cells and electrolysis cells as pretty much equivalent. Was I wrong?

Using hydrogen for energy storage might be 80% efficient for the electrolysis and 40% efficient for the fuel cell.
So:

.8 x .4 = .32

Or: 32% efficiency of storage.
Pumped hydro routinely gets more than 70% efficiency.

GE's been touting their new alkaline cells as a breakthrough in the cost of electrolysis, but why just for electrlysis? What's the salient difference between an electrolysis cell and a fuel cell?

If the fuel cell uses air as the oxygen source, then cheap alkaline fuel cells (and this is alkaline, right?) with nickel electrodes cannot be used without very good scrubbing of CO2 from the air. Otherwise, carbonates will quickly clog the cell. This also applies to cells using reformed carbon-containing fuels as the hydrogen source.

The electrolytic cell has no air flowing into it, so one doesn't have to worry about carbonation.

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