Hydrogen economy draws closer

By Adrian Bishop - 26 Mar 2012 0:0:0 GMT
Hydrogen economy draws closer

Hydrogen via Shutterstock

Hydrogen could start to replace fossil fuels and be commercially produced by nuclear power plants by 2020, scientists claim. The technology to create the 'hydrogen economy' has been accessible for many years, Dr Ibrahim Khamis told the national meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS), in San Diego, USA.

This decade could see petrol, diesel and additional fossil fuels begin to be replaced by hydrogen created out of heat from current nuclear power bases along with newly created hydrogen plants, he explains.

Dr Khamis, from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, Austria, says, "Hydrogen production using nuclear energy could reduce dependence on oil for fuelling motor vehicles and the use of coal for generating electricity.

"In doing so, hydrogen could have a beneficial impact on global warming, since burning hydrogen releases only water vapour and no carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas. There is a dramatic reduction in pollution."

IAEA experts and others were carrying out intensive work to see how the world's 435 active nuclear power plants could be used to produce hydrogen.

Now, the majority of hydrogen originates from coal and natural gas, but gives off carbon dioxide, which adds to global warming. Some is made via electrolysis, using an electric current in water to separate the molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. It is more cost-effective to heat the water and pass the current through the steam created.

Nuclear power plants already produce heat that can be used to make steam, as well as the electricity to break down the water molecules, so they are the perfect places to produce hydrogen, says Dr Khamis.

The plants could produce the hydrogen during off-peak electric tariffs and so keep costs low, experts believe. If dedicated hydrogen plants were created they would use a more efficient process at higher temperatures or combine electrolysis with thermochemical processes that are currently being developed.

Dr Khamis says that although producing nuclear hydrogen from electrolysis of water or steam is possible today, the costs need to be driven down and profits improved.

The IAEA has a Hydrogen Economic Evaluation Programme with special software available to help member states work towards producing hydrogen from nuclear energy. The program evaluates the technical and economic issues, taking into account various scenarios.

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Topics: Renewable Energy