SMRs cost-effective in hydrogen production, study finds

17 May 2024

Hydrogen can be produced for less than EUR3.50 (USD3.80) per kilogram using a combination of solid oxide electrolysis cells (SOEC) and small modular reactors (SMRs), significantly cheaper than alternative methods, a new study led by Dutch nuclear energy development company ULC-Energy BV has concluded.

How a Topsoe SOEC electrolyser and two Rolls-Royce SMRs could appear (Image: ULC-Energy)

In November last year, ULC-Energy announced it had signed an agreement with Denmark's Topsoe, the UK's Rolls-Royce SMR and Dutch energy market consultancy KYOS to jointly investigate the production of hydrogen using Topsoe's Solid Oxide Electrolysis Cell (SOEC) technology with both electricity and heat produced by a Rolls-Royce SMR nuclear power plant.

The joint investigation was to include a valuation of the operational flexibility of the Rolls-Royce SMR in combination with Topsoe's proprietary SOEC technology in the future energy market.

ULC-Energy has now announced the results of the study, saying the study had revealed significant advantages of the SMR-SOEC combination: a Rolls-Royce SMR power plant can operate 24/7, with 95% availability; SOEC electrolysis can produce more hydrogen per total power input when compared with conventional electrolyser technologies; steam can be supplied directly from the nuclear power plant heat exchangers; and hydrogen production can take place off-grid.

The results revealed that hydrogen can be produced this way for less than EUR3.50 per kilogram and that this cost can be driven down to less than EUR2.00 per kilogram by 2050 "by taking into account the value of the flexibility to curtail hydrogen production and deliver electricity to an increasingly intermittent grid".

The study also demonstrated that the SMR–SOEC combination produces the highest annual quantity of hydrogen as a result of higher process efficiency and a high availability.

"The large-scale production of clean hydrogen is an extremely important driver of decarbonisation," said ULC-Energy CEO Dirk Rabelink. "At ULC-Energy we believe strongly that nuclear can and will play a major role to produce clean hydrogen and derivative clean fuels.

"The study that is now completed clearly demonstrates the capability of nuclear to deliver low-cost, clean hydrogen at an industrial scale. Importantly, it also shows the additional value associated with the flexibility to switch between energy markets such as electricity, heat and, in this case, hydrogen. Topsoe SOEC and Rolls-Royce SMR are both highly modularised solutions that are factory manufactured and can be scaled rapidly."

Rolls-Royce SMR's Director of Strategy and Business Development Alan Woods added: "Rolls-Royce SMR believes one of its powerful advantages is that it can produce clean energy cheaply and extremely reliably, but can also direct its output to meet demand. This operational flexibility will be increasingly valuable as intermittent energy sources, such as wind and solar, expand. We are excited by the results of ULC-Energy's study and look forward to taking next steps."

In August 2022, Rolls-Royce SMR signed an exclusive agreement with ULC-Energy to collaborate on the deployment of Rolls-Royce SMR power plants in the Netherlands. ULC-Energy - established in 2021 and based in Amsterdam - aims to accelerate decarbonisation in the Netherlands by developing nuclear energy projects that efficiently integrate with residential and industrial energy networks in the country.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News