Nuclear enabled hydrogen (NEH) has considerable potential, though decisive and early government action is needed to realise it, the UK Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association (UK HFCA) has said.
On 7 June, the UK HFCA published a paper, calling for government to use legislation, financial backing and make more nuclear sites available to support NEH’s potential and allow it to become a future energy player in the delivery of net zero. It set out how 3GW of nuclear power paired with today’s technology could meet 22.5% of the government’s 10GW low carbon hydrogen target for 2030. It could heat 1mn homes with low carbon hydrogen, remove more than 10% of all UK aviation emissions, decarbonise 50% of UK shipping emissions, deliver 10% of 2050 predicted hydrogen demand, fuel 40,000 hydrogen buses, and created 25,000 high value jobs.
It highlighted forecasts from the National Nuclear Laboratory that cost reductions for nuclear energy will rapidly make NEH cost competitive with renewables enabled hydrogen. By securing another low cost energy input for low carbon hydrogen, it will mean the 2030 target can not only be met but can be done so affordably.
The co-location of NEH with industrial clusters could also bring strong synergies between the nuclear electricity generation and the industries that are served by the cluster, while there are roles for NEH in providing fuel cells for surface transport, decarbonising the gas grid, providing ammonia for shipping and synthetic aviation fuels.
Looking ahead, with 24GW of nuclear power now being targeted as coming online by 2050, the report called for decisive early action. With projects reaching final investment decisions each year until 2030, the role for nuclear enabled hydrogen in these proposed plants must be considered today and decided on in the near future.
For government, it has a key role to play in providing the appropriate enabling actions for NEH, including accelerators. These included making more sites available for nuclear and allowing more operator organisations in the UK to meet this need. Sites previously identified as having the potential for nuclear could provide up to 90% of 2050 zero carbon hydrogen demand. This, however, could be challenging for just one operator, with the UK HFCA expressing the need to ensure the UK has enough domestic organisations that can operate NEH facilities.
It should also look to promote the use of NEH in industrial clusters, considering the unique synergies nuclear enabled hydrogen can offer to the UK’s hydrogen plans in this area, and extend all incentives associated with low carbon hydrogen to include NEH in their scope. This includes the RTFO, Hydrogen Business Model and the Net Zero Hydrogen Fund.