Three commercial electric utilities and the Idaho National Laboratory have been chosen for a project to improve the long-term economic competitiveness of the nuclear power industry.

The Department of Energy-based project aims to enable the production of commodities such as hydrogen in addition to electricity from commercial nuclear power plants. The project also is intended to expand the use of hydrogen as a storage medium for electricity production, as a transportation fuel, or as a replacement for industrial processes that currently use carbon-emitting sources in hydrogen production.

The Davis-Besse nuclear plant in Ohio is expected to take part in the project. Source: FESThe Davis-Besse nuclear plant in Ohio is expected to take part in the project. Source: FESUtility participants are Akron, Ohio-based FirstEnergy Solutions, Xcel Energy and Arizona Public Service (APS).

The two-year project led by FirstEnergy Solutions will initially demonstrate and deploy a 1 to 3 MWe low-temperature electrolysis unit to produce commercial quantities of hydrogen. The first site, planned for 2020, is FirstEnergy Solution’s Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station near Toledo, Ohio.

(In February, FirstEnergy filed requests with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission related to the generating company's plan to close Davis-Besse by May 31, 2020. FirstEnergy cited competitive pressures and a lack of "meaningful" market reforms as reasons for closing the 896 megawatt power plant.)

Hydrogen from Davis-Besse may initially be used to supply public transportation fleets in Ohio, in new direct iron reduction plants being constructed to produce steel products or for other commercial products. The project is intended to demonstrate how hydrogen from commercial nuclear operations can be used to produce “green” products and commodities in significant quantities for domestic use and for export to international markets where green and low-carbon attributes are incentivized.

Xcel Energy will help determine if hydrogen production can enhance the company’s growing carbon-free footprint. Redirecting nuclear energy from electricity to hydrogen production could help balance the electrical grid with the increasing amount of wind and solar energy on the system. The company has also been testing flexible operations at its two nuclear plants in Minnesota, and hydrogen could offer a new value stream.

APS’ Palo Verde Generating Station near Phoenix, Arizona, also participates in the demonstration. Hydrogen from Palo Verde may be used as energy storage in reverse-operable electrolysis or peaking gas turbines during times of the day when photovoltaic solar energy sources are unavailable and energy reserves in the U.S. Southwest are low, and could also be used to support a hydrogen transportation fuel market.

INL is one of the U.S. Department of Energy’s national laboratories and it is a leading center for nuclear energy research and development.