Feasibility Study of Decentralized Hydrodren Production Using Nuclear Batteries

Report Date: 

January 2024



Executive summary

Nuclear batteries (NBs) are an innovative class of nuclear microreactors with a thermal output below 30MWth. They promise to provide energy as a service to customers with minimal staff and site preparation requirements, with rapid deployment – on the order of days to weeks – owing to their compactness (size of one or multiple shipping containers) and autonomous plug-and-play nature. In addition, the possibility for colocation of the NBs with customers and their high targeted reliability (capacity factors upwards of 90%) limits the need for costly transmission and storage systems. This is especially appealing in the context of hydrogen production, as the hydrogen transport and dispensing costs are prohibitively high for the development of a hydrogen economy – in 2017, the hydrogen transport and dispensing costs were 14.4 – 15.6 $/kg [1].

This work aims to identify the requirements NBs must satisfy for decentralized electricity or hydrogen production and their ability to do so. This report outlines the current state of research and identifies key areas of future work.

A set of requirements has been identified in the context of both hydrogen production and the use of NBs in offshore power generation – which is part of the broader scope of this project sponsored by Shell, Equinor and Exxon Mobil – but the set is only treated qualitatively for now. No system requirements have been identified that are unique or more stringent for electrolysis than for grid electricity production. Thus,the limiting requirement for the viability of NB-power electrolysis is its economics, which is why the study has focused mainly on the economics of hydrogen production using NBs.

For the economic analysis, several projects starting in 2030 in California (CA) are considered, see Table 1. The projects either buy electricity from the grid, or produce it using NBs. In the latter case, the more efficient, high-temperature Solid Oxide Electrolysis Cells (SOEC) are considered alongside the mature low temperature Polymer Electrolyte Membrane (PEM) electrolysis. CA is chosen because many hydrogen projects have been developed there already, and hence, data on costs and price projections is readily available. Two types of decentralized hydrogen production are considered, one is a community-scale facility that is close to the demand and the other is on-site production using a single NB – hereafter referred to as centralized and distributed production, respectively. Note that the community-scale facility can be referred to as a semi-centralized facility under the nomenclature or Reddi et al. [2], but is called a centralized facility in this report.

The capacity of the community-scale facilities represents an electrical demand of roughly 60 MWe for PEM electrolysis and 45 MWe for SOEC electrolysis, well within the reasonable range for a multiple-NB project. For the distributed production, a capacity of 1600 kg/d is chosen based on the capacity of the currently-largest hydrogen fueling station in CA [3].

The economic analysis is based on simple levelized cost models to compare the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) and hydrogen (LCOH2). Reported costs result from Monte Carlo simulations and in addition, sensitivity analyses are performed for each project. Moreover, multiple ways of claiming subsidies under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) are considered for each case considered in Table 1. Finally, a doubling of the capacity of the distributed projects to two NBs is also considered to highlight economies of scale in the NB projects.



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