Viewpoint: Advanced nuclear for the hydrogen economy

28 April 2021

Innovation and energy have long been intertwined, and with recent advancements in clean technologies, there is an abundance of momentum towards a greener future, writes Steve Threlfall, general manager of U-Battery.

Steve Threlfall, general manager of U-Battery

"Canada has consistently held its position at the forefront of the global fight against climate change as it continues its energy transformation, driven by a mix of hydro, nuclear, wind and solar, within its energy portfolio.

It is anticipated that the Trudeau government’s 2021 Budget will be centred on a path toward economic recovery, a recovery that will be inclusive of green initiatives that can facilitate Canada’s ambitious environmental goals. One of the key components in Canada’s long-term climate change strategy is the development of a robust and thriving hydrogen sector.

Just recently, the Government of Canada released its Hydrogen Strategy, which calls for domestic and global investments and strategic partnerships. As one of the top ten hydrogen producers in the world today, Canada is rich in feedstock assets that produce hydrogen, and can lean on a strong and diverse energy sector. In the same week, the federal government also released its SMR Action Plan, a comprehensive strategy outlining the federal government’s commitment to enable the development and deployment of small modular reactors (SMRs) across the country.

There is no doubt that renewables like hydrogen have a significant role to play in decarbonising Canada’s footprint, but it is a role quite like that of SMRs. In fact, advanced SMR designs will be capable of producing hydrogen at a low carbon capacity.

For example, U-Battery’s advanced SMR is a cogeneration unit capable of providing off-grid capacity for energy intensive industries and remote locations that require both heat and power. Its innovative design and modularity also allow for value-added applications such as desalination and hydrogen production, make it significantly adaptable to meet broader local needs.

Through the development and deployment of SMRs, which have the potential to be cost competitive with other low-cost energy production methods, the cost curve of hydrogen production could be significantly reduced. Ultimately, the culmination of hydrogen production as a value-added capability of advanced nuclear energy development would enable a direct link between nuclear and renewables.

It is also important to consider that nuclear operations are one of today’s safest methods of energy production due to the rigorous safety standards governing the sector, all of which would be subsequently applied to SMRs involved in the production of hydrogen. There is an undoubted synergy between nuclear energy and hydrogen, particularly as part of Canada’s carbon mitigation strategy and efforts to achieve net-zero by 2050.

The government of Canada has dubbed climate change the biggest long-term threat to our generation, but with any challenge comes ample opportunity. By accelerating action to fight climate change while rebuilding a more sustainable and resilient economy, Canada will spur significant economic opportunity, creating new jobs for Canadians while ensuring cleaner air and water for generations to come.

As Canada builds cleaner communities, there is an impending need to expand the development and supply of clean energy, and both nuclear energy and hydrogen have an integral role to play.

Deprived of key infrastructures and faced with a less dynamic employment sector than the one found in urban settings, rural and remote communities have been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, remote communities not connected to the North American electricity grid rely on costly and greenhouse gas-emitting diesel generated electricity. In both instances, a developed hydrogen sector could provide a sustainable solution. Like SMRs, hydrogen would turn remote communities away from fossil fuel generation toward a low carbon option for heavy-industry operations, transport, and community infrastructure.

Like SMRs, hydrogen holds the potential to sustain Canada’s position as a global leader in the field of sustainable energy and the federal government must remain steadfast in its commitment to develop both the hydrogen sector and SMRs at time where the mitigation of climate change has never been more of an urgency.

SMRs have the potential for much more than helping Canada achieve its climate change goals. They can lead the development of Canada’s hydrogen economy while enabling global export opportunities for the Canadian supply chain; and they will ignite Canada’s energy transformation while enabling energy security, energy equity and environmental sustainability for all."