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DOE Awards $5.7 Million to Universities for Nuclear Energy Research, Including Nuclear Hydrogen Initiative

4 February 2007

The US Department of Energy (DOE) will award $5.7 million under the Nuclear Energy Research Initiative (NERI) to nine universities for research in the Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems Initiative and the Nuclear Hydrogen Initiative (NHI).

Combined with this announcement, DOE has funded a total of 70 NERI projects since 2005, totaling $38.6 million. In Fiscal Year 2008, DOE’s budget request will include $35.6 million in research that will be awarded to universities through NERI grants—as part of DOE’s Generation IV Nuclear Energy Initiative, the Nuclear Hydrogen Initiative, and the Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative—to further support advanced nuclear energy R&D.

Of the nine awards, two are related to the Nuclear Hydrogen Initiative.

The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) reviewed an award for a project to optimize heat exchangers. The University of Wisconsin-Madison received an award for an investigation of liquid salts as media for heat transfer from Very High Temperature Reactors (VHTR).

The Nuclear Hydrogen Initiative is based on the premise that nuclear energy offers significant potential for the large scale, emission-free production of hydrogen. The purpose of the DOE’s NHI is to develop candidate hydrogen production methods suitable for use with advanced nuclear reactors.

The NHI program has the following two primary priorities:

  • Priority 1: Develop thermochemical and high-temperature electrolytic hydrogen production processes and interfaces that are compatible with the thermal output characteristics of Generation IV reactor to produce economically competitive hydrogen.

  • Priority 2: Develop advanced or alternative production processes to the baseline cycles to assess the potential for higher efficiency or lower cost.

Thermochemical cycles produce hydrogen through a series of chemical reactions resulting in the production of hydrogen and oxygen from water at much lower temperatures than direct thermal decomposition. Energy is supplied as heat in the temperature range necessary to drive the endothermic reactions, generally 750 to 1,000°C or higher.

Hybrid thermochemical cycles include both chemical reaction steps and electrolysis of some chemical compound (not water) that produces hydrogen. Both thermal and electrical energy is required to complete the hybrid cycle. In general, hybrid electrolysis requires less electrical energy than conventional electrolysis of water, according to the DOE.

High-temperature electrolysis (HTE), or steam electrolysis, has the potential for higher efficiency than conventional electrolysis because thermal energy is used to produce high-temperature steam, resulting in a reduction of the required electrical energy.

HTE requires low-cost, efficient electricity and an energy source that provides the highest possible temperatures consistent with materials capabilities. Temperatures up to 950°C are being considered using similar materials and technology to those used in solid-oxide fuel cells.

The NHI has targeted the complete construction of integrated laboratory-scale thermochemical and high-temperature electrolysis hydrogen production systems in FY 2008. Ultimate demonstration of commercial-scale nuclear hydrogen production is targeted for 2019.

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February 4, 2007 in Hydrogen, Nuclear | Permalink | Comments (22) | TrackBack (0)

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Perhaps they could spend some of the money on generating a fuel that is easier to handle than H2, like butanol for instance - any fuel that can either be used to fuel a fuel cell or an ICE.
The purpose should be to make the energy from a nuclear reactor easily transportable, storeable and usable in vehicles - the actual fuel should be left to the reader as an exercise.
The alternative is to use batteries or supercaps and the grid in BEVs or PHEVs.
Just don't call them nuclear powered cars.

Hydrogen is the magic Pixie Dust of Greenwashing. Sprinkle it on anything and it becomes "Green".

The first application of hydrogen from nuclear is most likely for producing ammonia, NH4. This concept is more than 25 years from being a commercially used.

Producing H2 is a big step toward producing liquid fuels.
Useing nuke power to produce liquid fuels will happen, IMO. The carbon can come from coal or CO2. CTL useing nuke power will also happen, IMO. Nuke power is growing rapidly all over the world.

When we start making artificial liquid fuel for vehicles on a large scale with nuclear energy we will certainly use atmospheric CO2, not coal, as one of the raw materials.

use atmospheric CO2, not coal
Atmospheric CO2 doesn't have a Washington Lobby.

"use atmospheric CO2, not coal
Atmospheric CO2 doesn't have a Washington Lobby."

How about we come halfway, at least in the beginning, and use CO2 exhaust (from power, paper, chemical, etc. plants) for carbon feedstock. Later on, BTL operations could provide part (or most) of the supply.

Rick, you've hit the nail in the head!
Nuclear hydrogen is expensive and inefficient to transport due to the fact that nuclear facilities are restricted to remote area away from population centers. However, using the H2 and with appropriate catalysts, combine the H2 with the waste CO2 sequestered from biomass gasification, and one can produce methane (CH4) or liquid hydrocarbon that would be easy to transport.

Use liquid fuel for current cars, and in the future, methane would be great for dual-fuel H2/CH4-ICE-HEV's when liquid hydrocarbon fuels will be phased out due to environmental concern. Methane (CH4) can easily be transported long-distance via existing NG pipeline infrastructure! Thus, nuclear H2 in combination with CO2 from biomass gasification will give us an inexhaustible source of NG to replace the diminishing NG from oil and gas wells.

Now, only a itty bitty problem with handling and storage of nuclear waste, or how to make safer breeder reactors technology that can multiply its own fuel supply!

Richard -

it would be very expensive to extract the CO2 out of the atmosphere. Rick's idea of using H2 + heat to turn CO2 from a coal- or gas-fired power plant into hydrocarbon fuels plus O2 is interesting, and may prove cheaper than other forms of CO2 sequestration, e.g. in brine aquifers. Use of such synthetic fuels would reduce the amount of crude oil required, i.e. keep more of what's already in the ground in situ.

I'm no fan of nuclear power, mostly because the issue of long-term storage remains unresolved (cp. Yucca Mountain) and, the proliferation risk of dual-fuel technologies (cp. Pakistan, North Korea, Iran).

However, coal is here to stay because a number of major countries (US, China, Germany, Australia, Russia, ...) have large domestic supplies of this cheap fossil fuel. Therefore, we need affordable damage limitation strategies wrt the CO2 footprint of coal. Personally, I would like to see an honest cost-benefit analysis including both economic and ecological aspects, comparing the floowing four scenarios:

- the nuclear-coal hybrid route to synthetic fuels described above
- a coal-algaculture hybrid route to biodiesel/fuel alcohol
- a PHEV/BEV approach without additional nuclear power, possibly including V2G
- a district heating/cooling or domestic heat pump approach without additional nuclear power, reducing CO2 emissions related to indoor climate control so those from transportation don't have to be (by as much)

Most of recently developed CTL (with at least partial biomass co-firing capability) use pure oxygen for initial partial oxidation instead of regular air. This oxygen could come as by-product of hydrogen generation.

Actauly the reason to go to type 4 no matter what is on the same amount of fuel it makes alot more power AND makes alot of h2 as well.

In short its better in every way from a type 3 reactor. It also cant meltdown.

As for transport of the h2 it wouldlikely either be colocated with a coal plant and covert co2 into methane or it would pipe the h2 via pipeline. Pr and I know this will blow your minds.. They might just cram all that h2 directly into plain old fuel cells and generate even more power then was used to make the h2 in the first place.

Or they might build a fuel refining station next to it and use the h2 to upgrade low grade fuels Or they might use it to clean up dirty fuels or they might make billions of exploding ballon animals and take over the world.

Another potential use for H2 from nuclear plants is to replace the tons of H2 already in use that come from other sources. Wouldn't that reduce the amount of CO2 released?

Rick & Rafael,
Regarding combining nuclear H2 and CO2 from coal-burning power plants...raises a question: Why using nuclear energy to produce H2 when you have to burn coal to produce more electricity? Surely, burning coal in the conventional way is very polluting! If you need more electricity from coal-fired plants, then why would you even bother with producing H2 in the nuclear plants when these nuclear plants could be producing more electricity?

On the other hand, gasification of coal or biomass can sequester nearly all of the pollution instead of releasing it in the air. Providing that the majority of your electricity is already produced by renewable or GHG-neutral energy such as wind and solar and nuclear, then one would use coal or biomass gasification to produce H2 and high-temp heat near the point of H2 demand, since it is uneconomical to ship H2...while, the CO2 is much easier to transport via either CO2 pipeline or tanker truck into the remotely-located nuclear facility to combine with the H2 there to turn into either methane or liquid fuel for consumption at long distances from the nuclear plant.

Roger -- I am glad that you are not completely anti-nuke because you are a good technical analyst. I am bullish on clean coal, CTL and CTG. When I mentioned carbon from coal, I was thinking about taking the carbon out of the gas from CTL. Nuke liquid fuells and nuke gas fuels look ideal to me for reasons that you stated. And, it sounds ideal to use captured CO2 plus H2 to make liquid fuel.

Rafael -- I wish that you were also more pro nuke because you are very knowledgeable about energy tech. Regarding nuke waste, I was anti-nuke for many years because of the waste problem but eventually decided that it was not a big problem because the bulk low-level stuff is not that dangerous or long lasting. The high level waste (spent fuel) takes very little room, cools off enough in a few years so that it can be safely stored in bomb-proof containers and can actually be viewed as a resource to be mined in the future. There is no reason to haul high-level waste around the country, because it can be stored on site. And, finally, as winter mentioned, nuke tech keeps getting better, cleaner, more efficient, cheaper, and safer. I like bio-fuel but can't see it provideing base loads. Long, long term, I think that solar will dominate.

Rick -

I think we'll have to agree to disagree on the risks inherent in nuclear waste, its transportation and its reprocessing. CO2 emissions are increasingly recognized as a very serious issue, but that does not mean nuclear has all of a sudden become squeaky-clean. Pick your poison.

I very much hope that renewable energy sources, especially solar/biofuels, will one day dominate our energy supply. Unfortunately, current technology does not permit covering a high proportion of demand at reasonable cost. It will take 30 years or more of continuous improvement and investment.

Btw: alternative fuels, whether produced biologically or synthetically, should of course be used exclusively in the transportation sector, not to produce electricity for the grid. There are far cheaper ways to achieve the latter.

Some of us seem to be missing the point: using coal as a raw material for vehicle fuel only increases the greenhouse gas problem. Yes, using atmospheric CO2 as a raw material will be expensive, but that process is truly carbon neutral, and the time is coming when it will be illegal to release fossil carbon in any form.

The problems of nuclear are more political than technical. Reprocessing, fast breeders, thorium fuel, and a strict international control regime are all in our future.

Rafael -- I agree that nuke energy is not perfectly clean. I am reminded of the politician defending himself from his critics by saying, "Don't compare me with the Almighty, compare me with my opponent."
I also agree with the economics of reserving liquid fuels for transportation. My use of the term "base load" was about bio-fuel not being able to replace the billions of gallons currently being used for transportation even though there are technical analysts that show that it can be done. It would not be practical IMO. When I look ahead, I see more and more electric fuel and motors for transportation. The bottleneck is battery tech and FC tech.

Richard, I belive that there are other ways and better ways to deal with global warming besides being 100% carbon neutral.

Rafael,

Alternative fuels are quite appropriate for stationary power production. Sawdust, wood waste, black liquor, switchgrass (until Bush figures how to ferment it anyway) and landfill gas all are suitable for power generation and quite unsatisfactory for transportation.

Generally speaking, I would agree that liquid biologics/synthetics are most appropriate for transportation.

Bill

I must disagree with the on-site storage of nuclear waste.

On-site is not so bad technically. But politically it gives nuclear opponents a strong weapon. As long as it is done they can and will stir public opinion about the immense danger to their community. Facts will have nothing to do with the matter.

Local storage also requires local guards, inspections, and facilities at hundreds of sites. How can these be as secure as specialized storage at a place like Yucca Mountain. And I don't see how it can be as cheap. But expense can be argued; hysteria about radioactivity cannot.

As soon as the determination to store centrally was made - over two decades ago - the antinuclear lobby began to insist that no site could ever be found and transportation there could never be safe and no effective containment was possible.

And they won. We poured billions into merely selecting and planning YM, billions more into partially building it, and nearly endless amounts into devising containers and transport. And each technical objection was demolished it made no difference. Politics stopped it.

And the same will happen to on-site. As soon as it, and not YM, becomes policy it will be opposed with lawsuits and the contention that central storage is best. The entire process and debate will reverse. The intent is to stop any nuclear program for any reason.

After almost seventy years the US still has no sensible storage for nuclear wastes. And we that is exactly how nuclear opponents want it.

If YM is put into operation then after a few years the matter will be moot. Storage and transportation will be seen to work. Further, once the material has been removed, it will be impossible to convince localities it should be returned and nearby.

As soon as people are huddled in the dark in winter freezing to death or baking in summer with the power out they will shut up and nuke it.

Reprocessing, fast breeders, thorium fuel, and a strict international control regime are all in our future.

Possibly very far in the future. Seawater uranium extraction could allow us to delay all of these for thousands of years, even if most of the world's primary energy comes from fission.

Has anyone thought of using the earth to compress hydrogen? More precisely, what stops a company from running two cables down into the ocean 10,000 feet and supplying the cable with wind powered electricity, thereby producing hydrogen from the ocean at a pressure of 4454 psi. The hydrogen would be collected at depth and piped, at a collection pressure of 4454 psi, up to a surface collection station and further into existing high pressure gas distribution infrastructures.

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