Jul 26, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Global nuclear hydrogen group forms

In this illustration, a three leaf clover is shaped like a nuclear power symbol.
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

A global coalition of more than 40 participants is launching the Nuclear Hydrogen Initiative Tuesday to advance the development of such technologies.

Why it matters: Using nuclear power to generate hydrogen gas is one route to being able to store energy to power trucks, factories, and other difficult-to-decarbonize sectors of the economy.

The big picture: Hydrogen has promise, but faces hurdles such as the huge amounts of electricity required to produce it, and hydrogen’s effects on the atmosphere if it leaks out.

  • The companies comprising the NHI are seeking to drive down costs by pairing hydrogen production with nuclear power. This would use electrolyzers to take water and split it into hydrogen and oxygen.
  • The group plans to pursue nuclear hydrogen demonstration projects, engage the financial sector to finance such technologies, and advocate for policies that support deploying nuclear hydrogen, members tell Axios. It is not a lobbying organization, however.

Zoom in: The members range from environmental groups like the Clean Air Task Force to companies that design next-generation nuclear plants, such as X-energy.

  • Others include nuclear plant operators Entergy and Constellation, government entities including the International Atomic Energy Agency and Idaho National Lab, and hydrogen supply chain players Bloom Energy, Cummins and Siemens.

What they’re saying: “Today the global market for hydrogen is around 70 million tons of hydrogen a year. By 2050, that number can be as high as between 500 million to a billion tons of hydrogen produced a year,” Carlos Leipner, who directs global nuclear energy strategy at the Clean Air Task Force, tells Axios.

  • “That will require a tremendous amount of energy,” Leipner says, pointing to nuclear plants as a promising way to generate large amounts of power at a low cost.

Yes, but: Hydrogen gas is an indirect contributor to global warming over the short term, according to Ilissa Ocko, a senior climate scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund.

  • Hydrogen can increase the amount of methane, tropospheric ozone and stratospheric water vapor in the air, each of which enhances warming, Ocko tells Axios.
  • Hydrogen's global warming influence has largely been overlooked, because of its short atmospheric lifespan compared to carbon dioxide.
  • Once one accounts for this, Ocko says, “It becomes clear that hydrogen is a lot more potent” of a warming agent than once thought.
  • She urges groups to work to limit hydrogen leakage from manufacturing and transportation infrastructure.
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