Research Papers

System Evaluation and Economic Analysis of a Nuclear Reactor Powered High-Temperature Electrolysis Hydrogen-Production Plant

[+] Author and Article Information
E. A. Harvego, M. G. McKellar, M. S. Sohal, J. E. O’Brien, J. S. Herring

 Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho Falls, ID 38415

J. Energy Resour. Technol 132(2), 021005 (Jun 11, 2010) (9 pages) doi:10.1115/1.4001566 History: Received February 26, 2009; Revised March 25, 2010; Published June 11, 2010; Online June 11, 2010

A reference design for a commercial-scale high-temperature electrolysis (HTE) plant for hydrogen production was developed to provide a basis for comparing the HTE concept with other hydrogen-production concepts. The reference plant design is driven by a high-temperature helium-cooled nuclear reactor coupled to a direct Brayton power cycle. The reference design reactor power is 600MWt, with a primary system pressure of 7.0 MPa, and reactor inlet and outlet fluid temperatures of 540°C and 900°C, respectively. The electrolysis unit used to produce hydrogen includes 4,009,177 cells with a per-cell active area of 225cm2. The optimized design for the reference hydrogen-production plant operates at a system pressure of 5.0 MPa, and utilizes an air-sweep system to remove the excess oxygen that has evolved on the anode (oxygen) side of the electrolyzer. The inlet air for the air-sweep system is compressed to the system operating pressure of 5.0 MPa in a four-stage compressor with intercooling. The alternating current to direct current conversion efficiency is 96%. The overall system thermal-to-hydrogen-production efficiency (based on the lower heating value of the produced hydrogen) is 47.1% at a hydrogen-production rate of 2.356 kg/s. This hydrogen-production efficiency is considerably higher than can be achieved using current low-temperature electrolysis techniques. An economic analysis of this plant was performed using the standardized hydrogen analysis methodology developed by the Department of Energy Hydrogen Program, and using realistic financial and cost estimating assumptions. The results of the economic analysis demonstrated that the HTE hydrogen-production plant driven by a high-temperature helium-cooled nuclear power plant can deliver hydrogen at a competitive cost. A cost of $3.23/kg of hydrogen was calculated assuming an internal rate of return of 10%.

Copyright © 2010 by American Society of Mechanical EngineersThe United States Government retains, and by accepting the article for publication, the publisher acknowledges that the United States Government retains, a non-exclusive, paid-up, irrevocable, worldwide license to publish or reproduce the published form of this work, or allow others to do so, for United States Government purposes.
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Figure 1

Hydrogen cost for large, medium, and small markets (5)

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Figure 2

Process flow diagram for helium-cooled reactor with direct Brayton cycle

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Figure 3

Process flow diagram for helium-cooled reactor/direct Brayton/HTE system with air sweep

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Figure 4

Cumulative cash flow for reference HTE plant

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Figure 5

Calculated hydrogen-production cost as a function of internal rate of return

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Figure 6

Tornado plot showing sensitivity of hydrogen cost to parameter variations



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