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U-Battery: Enabling Localised, Clean, Hydrogen Production

27 August 2021

In the push to solve climate change, there are few new technologies which present greater opportunity in terms of scale than low-carbon hydrogen. Enabling the decarbonisation of heavy industry, heavy transport - including freight, shipping and aviation - as well as opening up new opportunities for clean power generation, means that hydrogen has understandably captured the imagination of policymakers, businesses and investors alike.

The recent publication of UK’s Hydrogen Strategy demonstrates that the UK Government fully recognises that there are multiple pathways to cleanly produce low-carbon hydrogen. What is essential now, in order to take advantage of the hydrogen opportunity, is to fully model, identify and support the enabling technologies that will unlock its tremendous decarbonisation and economic potential.

In the UK, the distances between the point of hydrogen production and where it is used is an important consideration, that cannot be underestimated. Without a source of locally generated, inexpensive electricity to produce the hydrogen, there is a serious risk of uneconomic operational, transportation and storage costs, which negates the benefits of hydrogen. This means there is a risk that prospective hydrogen users may limit the scope or delay their uptake of the technology, which in turn has negative implications for the transition to cleaner operations. This is why enabling technologies are as essential to unlocking the value of hydrogen, as the hydrogen technology itself.

As noted in the UK’s Strategy, one such enabling technology is nuclear power, which given its core aspects of being primarily a heat engine, can create efficiencies for hydrogen production and industrial use of hydrogen. A novel approach to nuclear power can help to enable these efficiencies – a new generation of small, ‘Advanced Modular Reactors’ (AMR), which can be co-located on industrial sites and provide a dedicated source of heat and power.

These smaller reactors will be much cheaper to build, and use modular construction methods for serial factory production, which will enable exportability. This means that one centre of excellence can develop and distribute reactors – allowing the development of hydrogen production in other markets.

U-Battery is one of the leading AMR designs, with an output scalable, within the design envelope of inherently safe TRISO fuel, from 10MWth of high-grade process heat (> 700°C). The design can provide a low-carbon, cost-effective, locally embedded and safe source of nuclear heat and power for energy intensive industry and industrial clusters as well as dedicated hydrogen production.

The versatility of the design means that in addition to its core applications of heavy industrial decarbonisation and providing low carbon heat and power for off-grid locations (such as mining sites and remote locations), it can co-generate both low-carbon electricity and the temperatures needed to support hydrogen production using solid oxide electrolyser cells (SOEC) or thermochemical water splitting. This can efficiently and locally deliver large quantities of low-carbon hydrogen for industrial uses, as well the decarbonised high heat required for energy-intensive users.   

Therefore, sites which are sensitive to the cost of electricity and would benefit from a dedicated source of power could embark on the low carbon transition through the local siting of a U-Battery.

Furthermore, the cost savings could be used by industries to create social value through investment in their businesses, workforces and local communities. In this way, low carbon enabling technologies can go beyond the immediate benefit and create positive ripples far beyond decarbonisation.

U-Battery is progressing well and looking forward to the deployment of its First of a Kind (FOAK) reactor in the coming years.  In the UK, it is participating in Phase 2 of the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s (BEIS) Advanced Modular Competition. In 2020, U-Battery was awarded £10 million in funding to progress the design and development of our reactor. In addition to the work that it is undertaking in the UK, it is pursuing a dual track process with Canada, where it has progressed through to Phase 2 of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories’ (CNL) SMR siting competition.

Hydrogen will have a considerable impact on the efforts to decarbonise and could be one of the core technologies on which we build our future energy system. Without enabling technologies, such a U-Battery, hydrogen will never be able to reach its full potential, and this poses risks to the transition to net zero that we can’t afford.

This article was originally published on H2 View:


About U-Battery

U-Battery is an advanced/small modular reactor, capable of providing a low-carbon, cost-effective, locally embedded and reliable source of power and heat for energy intensive industry and remote locations. It is being developed by Urenco in collaboration with a number of supporting organisations and has received funding from the UK Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy's Energy Innovation Portfolio.

Rebecca Astles, Urenco

T: +44 (0)1753 660660

Evan Byrne, Madano (UK)

T: T: +44 (0)20 75934009

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