How advanced nuclear can help deliver the hydrogen economy
As we approach the end of the year it’s important to consider how the UK is measuring up in the race to net zero by 2050. If we are to achieve these ambitions, the Government needs to take a truly holistic approach to clean energy generation, investing in a diverse array of solutions ranging from renewables to new nuclear. This is in large part why we designed our FLEX reactor – so we can be part of the solution and deliver an advanced nuclear technology that provides flexible, reliable, clean and affordable electricity.
However, there is more to decarbonising the economy than simply cleaning up electricity generation – sectors such as transport and heating need to be decarbonised too. As part of this, in recent years the discussion around hydrogen has grown ever louder. The Government’s 2020 Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution outlines a decade-long strategy for the UK to develop a low-carbon hydrogen sector, among other goals.
Hydrogen is a clean alternative to methane (otherwise known as natural gas), and is an energy source that can be ‘burnt’ without releasing carbon dioxide. As such, it can play a crucial role in reducing the emissions of hard-to-abate sectors such as glass, steel and cement manufacture as well as heavy industry.
The energy for hydrogen production can come from a variety of resources, including biomass and renewable power. The UK is currently looking to expand all forms of hydrogen production, but is particularly focusing on expanding emission-free ‘green’ generation. Green hydrogen is produced via the electricity generated from renewables with no harmful by-products, giving it a smaller carbon footprint than methods using fossil fuels.
However, for hydrogen to be a viable alternative that can truly deliver for the UK, it needs to be produced at scale and in huge quantities. As such, the greatest challenge for the hydrogen economy today is scaling up to meet demand.
A key pathway to delivering that is for nuclear to play a central role in hydrogen production, and this is where advanced nuclear power’s role is often overlooked. Studies show that nuclear can serve as the most affordable way to produce hydrogen, making it economically competitive with natural gas.
Advanced nuclear technologies therefore need to be considered as part of the solution in scaling up the hydrogen economy. Our ability to reliably produce hydrogen can help de-risk the conversion of our gas networks as well as provide a huge supply of green hydrogen for use in vital industries as they seek to reduce their carbon footprint.
We have explained elsewhere the FLEX reactor’s ability to be paired with renewable generation. However, it is also an ideal partner for hydrogen production. As well as generating electricity for conventional electrolysis, or producing heat and electricity for high-temperature electrolysis, the FLEX reactor’s 750°C output means it can also be used for more efficient thermo-chemical hydrogen processes, which will drive production costs down further.
Today, it’s clear that the world’s energy demands are expansive, yet the global production of energy is limited and security of supply is increasingly important – and all while we continue to struggle to reach our net-zero goals. To meet the UK’s domestic and industrial energy needs, we need to embrace a holistic approach to low-carbon energy generation. With its high operating temperature, the FLEX reactor is ideally placed to help produce hydrogen more efficiently than other resources, helping hard-to-abate sectors reduce emissions while also supporting key industries and the jobs they provide for decades to come.
Solar and wind power will have a key role to play in producing hydrogen, but it’s important we recognise the capacity for nuclear to deliver results in this space. We cannot afford to overlook the incredible opportunity nuclear presents to scale up the hydrogen economy.
Written by David Landon, MoltexFLEX CEO