A project to demonstrate the production of hydrogen in integrated energy systems at US nuclear power plants is one of three selected by the US Department of Energy (DOE) to receive a share of USD15 million in its latest announcement of project selectees. At the same time, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has awarded USD15 million in grants to support the development of the country's future nuclear workforce.Davis-Besse nuclear power plant (Image: FirstEnergy)
Idaho National Laboratory (INL) will partner with three electric utilities - Ohio-based FirstEnergy Solutions, the industry leader for the project; Xcel Energy of Minnesota; and Arizona Public Service - in the project to develop and demonstrate an integrated light water reactor hybrid energy system, which has been selected to receive USD9.2 million of funding for a total cost-shared amount of USD11.5 million. The two-year project will initially demonstrate and deploy a 1-3 MWe low-temperature electrolysis unit to produce commercial quantities of hydrogen.
The first unit is planned for installation in 2020 at FirstEnergy's Davis-Besse plant. The hydrogen produced may initially be used to supply public transport fleets in Ohio as well as in commercial industrial applications.
"This first-of-a-kind project represents significant advances for improving the long-term economic competitiveness of the light water reactor industry," Bruce Hallbert, director of DOE's INL-based Light Water Reactor Sustainability Program, said. "They will enable the production of commodities such as hydrogen in addition to electricity from commercial nuclear power plants. This project also accelerates the transition to a national hydrogen economy by contributing to the use of hydrogen as a storage medium for production of electricity, as a zero-emitting transportation fuel, or as a replacement for industrial processes that currently use carbon-emitting sources in hydrogen production."
FirstEnergy Solutions in July rescinded a deactivation notice for the Davis-Besse plant after Ohio passed into law a bill providing clean energy credits to zero-emission power producers.
"Thanks to the support provided to our Ohio nuclear plants by the state of Ohio, we are able to work with DOE to explore new methods of keeping nuclear power plants competitive in any economic environment.," Raymond Lieb, senior vice president of fleet engineering for FirstEnergy Solutions, said. "This is a great opportunity to show that hydrogen can be effectively generated in a carbon-free and safe manner."
Redirecting nuclear energy from electricity to hydrogen production could also help balance the electrical grid with the increasing amount of wind and solar energy on the system, while creating a new value stream. Xcel Energy, which owns Monticello and Prairie Island, has been testing flexible operations at its nuclear plants, and will participate in the project to help determine if hydrogen production can further enhance its carbon-free footprint.
APS' Palo Verde nuclear plant will participate in the demonstration to investigate the potential use of hydrogen generated in the nuclear plant as energy storage for use in reverse-operable electrolysis or peaking gas turbines during times of the day when photovoltaic solar energy sources are unavailable and regional energy reserves are low. Experience from this pilot project will offer valuable insights into methods for flexible transitions between electricity and hydrogen generation missions in solar-dominated electricity markets and demonstrate how hydrogen may be used as energy storage to provide electricity during operating periods when solar is not available, INL said.
The DOE awards are the sixth round of funding under the Office of Nuclear Energy's US Industry Opportunities for Advanced Nuclear Technology Development funding opportunity announcement, which has now made awards totalling about USD195 million of government funds since the first group of selectees was announced in April 2018. Further quarterly application reviews and selections under the scheme will be conducted over the next three years.
The other projects selected to receive funding in the current round are: a proposal by Blue Wave Capital and Consulting to develop and provide machine learning solutions to improve diagnostics and prognostic capabilities for predictive maintenance in nuclear power plants, which receives USD5.5 million for a total cost-shared total value of USD7 million; and a proposal by TerraPower LLC to develop an advanced fuel qualification methodology report for its Travelling Wave Reactor fuel, for NRC review and approval, which receives USD492,000 of DOE funding for a cost-shared total of USD984,000.
The cost-shared scheme encourages industry-led teams, federal agencies, public and private laboratories, higher educational institutions and the business community to work together to advance US nuclear capabilities.
"Several US companies are working on technologies to make the next generation of nuclear reactors highly competitive, and private-public partnerships will be key to successfully developing innovative domestic nuclear technologies," US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry said.
NRC confers awards
The NRC has awarded 45 grants worth a total USD15 million in fiscal 2019 under its Congressional authorisation to provide federal funding opportunities to qualified academic institutions to encourage careers and research in nuclear, mechanical and electrical engineering, health physics, and related fields to meet expected future workforce needs.
Recipients must use the grants for scholarships, fellowships and faculty development.
"Through this programme, NRC has funded multiple research and development, educational and training, and experiential learning projects to enhance academic excellence and to produce a skilled future workforce," the regulator said. More than 5200 students in 35 states and Puerto Rico have been recipients of the NRC programme over its 10-year tenure.