In the United States, a new frontier for nuclear energy is being explored, and Xcel Energy is leading the charge with a proposal to create hydrogen, most likely at its Prairie Island facility in Red Wing, Minnesota.
Pat Burke, vice president of Nuclear Strategy and Innovation, stated, “Our carbon-free nuclear fleet has been critical to our energy system for decades.” “Our dedication to innovation and investing in new technologies is demonstrated by this hydrogen initiative.
“We’ve encouraged our staff to come up with new methods to make our fleet more useful – and supplying carbon-free hydrogen demonstrates that they’ve heeded our call,” he said. “This sort of equipment may someday be utilized at nuclear power plants around the country to create a valuable product that could be used in a variety of sectors,” says the researcher.
This initiative is one part of a bigger hydrogen vision, which is part of Xcel Energy’s overall clean energy transition plan. In 2018, the business became the first large utility to declare plans to cut carbon emissions by 80% by 2030 and to achieve carbon-free power by 2050.
Hydrogen, according to Xcel Energy, has the potential to make a significant contribution to this objective while also providing a low-carbon alternative to fossil natural gas in the future decades. The firm’s growing renewable energy portfolio already produces record-breaking clean energy, and the corporation is pushing itself to accomplish even more while improving dependability and lowering consumer prices.
This involves forming industry collaborations to aid in the development of breakthrough technologies that will aid in the achievement of the organization’s objectives. This is where Xcel Energy’s hydrogen initiative comes into play.
The business will trial an innovative high-temperature steam electrolysis (HTSE) system that will use surplus steam and energy from one of its nuclear facilities to fuel the electrolysis process that separates hydrogen atoms from water thanks to a $10 million DOE award. Xcel Energy would be the first utility to employ steam and energy from a nuclear reactor to electrolyze hydrogen. Plant steam will be up to 30% more efficient than cold electrolysis for the HTSE. The company is scheduled to launch in late 2023 or early 2024.
Hydrogen is already a crucial component of oil and chemical refining, as well as fertilizer synthesis in the form of ammonia. Transportation, from long-haul semitrucks to ocean-going ships and perhaps airliners, might play a significant role in hydrogen utilization in the future.
Liquid ammonia, for example, may be turned to hydrogen and used to drive fuel cells and power big ships in the marine sector. And, according to Dan Ludwig, a senior engineer at Xcel Energy’s Nuclear Innovation Group, combining hydrogen with carbon dioxide may someday create a synthetic gas that could potentially replace many of our existing fuels.
“From an infrastructural viewpoint, replacing fossil fuels with zero-carbon fuels would be fantastic because very little would need to change,” Ludwig added. “The aim is to produce carbon-free hydrogen from carbon-free energy, which can then be used to make carbon-free ammonia and syn-gas, among other things.”
Another option for meeting hydrogen need is steel manufacturing. Instead of coal or natural gas, electricity and hydrogen may be utilized to manufacture steel.
“We’ll be able to use hydrogen in a number of various ways if we can create it,” he added. “And there’s a lot of study going on right now to look at it.”
Xcel Energy has teamed up with three other electric companies and the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory to perform technical and economic study on concepts that might enhance the capabilities of current nuclear reactors beyond merely electricity generation.
Electrolysis, for example, may be reversed, allowing hydrogen to function as a sort of battery. By negotiating the labyrinth of government agencies and regulatory procedures involved, it’s also paving the path for future initiatives.
Now is a good moment to look at hydrogen generation and other ways nuclear reactors may generate new money, Ludwig added, given the slow rise in electric sales and steady prices.
“In the future, instead of having to shut down nuclear facilities when demand is low and renewable energy is high, we can create hydrogen, store it, and help decarbonize other sectors, including our own,” he added.
Electrification is anticipated to continue and will be a critical component of a low-carbon economy in the future. A broad range of carbon reduction techniques, including hydrogen, will also be necessary. And, he added, there will be industrial processes that cannot be electrified, in which hydrogen might be a carbon-free lifesaver.
“Early initiatives like these will position us to lead, be educated, and make judgments, so we’ll be ready as this technology advances,” he added. “And we need to keep our foot on the hydrogen gas pedal – so to speak – in order to contribute to the carbon-free world we’re aiming for by 2050, if not sooner.”