Hybrid systems could lead to clean energy paradigm shift, study finds

11 December 2020

The simultaneous use of diverse energy generators including nuclear to provide power, heat, mobility and other energy services could lead to paradigm shifts in clean energy production, according to an academic paper recently published by researchers from the US Department of Energy's applied energy laboratories. Meanwhile, US-based NuScale Power has evaluated the boost in clean hydrogen production that will result from a 25% increase in power output from its small modular reactor.

(Image: INL)

The research paper by teams from Idaho National Laboratory (INL), the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) was published on 1 December in Joule. They describe novel hybrid energy systems that synergistically incorporate diverse energy sources, including renewables, nuclear and fossil fuel with carbon capture. Such systems are able to leverage multiple energy sources to maximise the value of each by creating higher-value products, delivering lower-emission energy to industry, and better coordinating demand with energy production.

As an example, the paper describes a hypothetical, tightly coupled industrial energy park that uses heat and electricity from highly flexible advanced nuclear reactors, small-scale fossil generators, and renewable energy technologies to produce electricity and hydrogen from electrolysis.

"In this scenario, depending on market pricing, electricity and/or heat could be sold into the grid, used on-site or stored for later distribution and use," NETL senior fellow for strategic systems analysis & engineering, David Miller, said. "Furthermore, the output streams could also be used to produce hydrogen or other valuable chemicals and products."

Hybrid "multi-input, multi-output" systems could provide a supply of clean energy for a larger net-zero-emission energy system to support sectors of the economy that are more difficult to decarbonise, such as industry and transportation. Implementing this new paradigm will require interdisciplinary research, development and demonstration enabled by cross-sector research programmes, with increased collaboration among the public and private sectors and across energy generators and users in order to accelerate innovation, the authors conclude. "Meeting the aggressive global goals for low and zero-emission energy systems will take all the assets in our toolbox," they said.

NuScale uprate increases hydrogen potential

Separately, Portland, Oregon-based NuScale Power has updated its evaluations for the technical feasibility and economics of producing hydrogen using heat and electricity from a NuScale Power Module (NPM) following a recently announced 25% power increase to a total of 250 MWt (77 MWe) per module. This updates a 2014 study that was carried out together with INL.

The analysis has found that a single 250 MWt NPM is capable of producing 2053 kg/hour of hydrogen, or nearly 50 tonnes per day, up from 1667 kg/hour of hydrogen or 40 tonnes per day for a 200 MWt module.

Moreover, as a result of the lower levelised cost of electricity from the increased power output, hydrogen produced by a NuScale high-temperature steam electrolysis system is forecasted to be cost competitive with high capacity factor renewable hydrogen cost estimates while also providing continuous, controlled hydrogen production, the company said.

“The ability of our NPM to now produce even more clean hydrogen, in a smaller footprint, is yet another example of how NuScale’s technology can help decarbonisze various sectors of the economy while providing additional revenue streams for customers,” José Reyes, NuScale's co-founder and chief technology officer, said.

Its multi-module design means a NuScale plant could produce clean electricity for the grid while allocating one or more modules to economically produce hydrogen when electricity demand is low, the company said.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News