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Office of Nuclear Energy

The Office of Nuclear Energy (NE) is working with its partners to demonstrate the commercial-scale production of hydrogen using heat from a nuclear energy system by 2017. In addition to the emission-free electricity currently produced by nuclear reactors, some advanced nuclear reactor designs operate at very high temperatures, making them well suited for promising new thermally-driven hydrogen production processes. These advanced reactors, now being developed by the Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems Initiative (Gen IV), could provide the low-cost heat necessary for these processes to economically produce hydrogen.

NE established the Nuclear Hydrogen Initiative to further the development of nuclear-based hydrogen production processes. The Nuclear Hydrogen Initiative will research and develop the following technologies that use nuclear reactors to produce hydrogen.

  • Thermochemical water-splitting cycles (TC): Research conducted under the Department's Nuclear Energy Research Initiative (NERI) indicates strong potential for the use of thermochemical water splitting processes to produce hydrogen. Thermochemical cycles are a series of chemical reactions that convert water to hydrogen and oxygen using chemical catalysts at high temperatures. These processes offer the potential for high efficiency hydrogen production at large-scale production rates, but the technology is relatively immature.
  • High-temperature electrolysis (HTE): HTE, or steam electrolysis as it is also called, uses electricity to produce hydrogen from steam, instead of liquid water. This method promises higher efficiencies than standard electrolysis, which is employed commercially today. The new high-temperature design involves many technical challenges, including the development of high-temperature materials and membranes.
  • Reactor/Hydrogen Production Process Interface: The interface between the nuclear reactor and the hydrogen production system involves potentially long heat transfer paths at elevated temperatures, heat exchangers that are subject to both elevated temperature and corrosive chemical environments, new safety and regulatory issues, and supporting systems for chemical processes and hydrogen and oxygen storage.

Program Contact:

Carl Sink
Office of Advanced Nuclear Research
Office of Nuclear Energy