Systems, engineering and technology company Frazer-Nash Consultancy, a KBR company, and the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (Nuclear AMRC) are leading a new project to understand and demonstrate the benefits of advanced nuclear reactors for more efficient low-carbon hydrogen production.

The project, funded by the UK government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) through the Net Zero Innovation Portfolio’s Low Carbon Hydrogen Supply 2 competition will explore the feasibility of developing a hydrogen production demonstrator and test facility that simulates the heat and electricity outputs of a new generation of nuclear plant, based on a variety of small modular reactor (SMR) and advanced modular reactor (AMR) designs.

As well as supporting the development of new designs of SMR and AMR, the facility will help companies which are developing new technologies for low-carbon hydrogen production, enabling them to test and refine their technologies’ performance, with a goal of commercial deployment as part of a nuclear cogeneration installation in the mid-2030s.

The proposed test facility will cover hydrogen production by high-temperature electrolysis and thermochemical splitting of water. Both techniques are more energy efficient than conventional electrolysis, while avoiding the high greenhouse gas emissions of steam methane reforming.

By demonstrating how advanced nuclear reactors can effectively produce hydrogen, the new facility will accelerate the deployment of sustainable hydrogen production as part of the global transition to net zero emissions. As well as replacing fossil fuels for transport and heating, hydrogen can help decarbonise industrial processes such as steelmaking, chemical synthesis, and the production of ethanol and synthetic fuels.

Steve McCluskey, Technology Management Consultant at Frazer-Nash and overall Project Delivery Manager, says:

“We are thrilled to have won funding for this exciting study combining new and emerging technologies from within the nuclear and hydrogen sectors, gaining valuable insights from industry on future trends and understanding their requirements. I look forward to working in close collaboration with the team members from within Frazer-Nash and the Nuclear AMRC to ensure the successful delivery of this project and having the opportunity to contribute to battling the global climate crisis in an innovative manner.”

Tom Purnell, Business Manager for Advanced Nuclear & Government at Frazer-Nash, says:

“It is really encouraging to receive the support from BEIS for this project and a great endorsement of the contribution from Advanced Nuclear to achieve Net Zero. In collaboration with the Nuclear AMRC and with the backing of a range of both hydrogen production and advanced nuclear vendors we are ready to truly contribute towards the delivery of a whole energy system.”

Neil Murray, business development manager for advanced nuclear technologies at the Nuclear AMRC, says:

“We are delighted to be working with our close partner Frazer-Nash on this exciting nuclear hydrogen demonstrator project. It is well understood that nuclear power will play an important part in meeting 2050 net-zero targets as a provider of baseload electricity to meet ever-increasing demands, but nuclear power’s cogenerative potential is absolutely massive and largely untapped. Various studies have shown that nuclear energy’s unique combination of heat and electricity can be used to produce clean hydrogen at a price similar to current renewable and fossil fuel methods, at any time of day, in all weathers, and without the need for fossil fuels or carbon capture.

This demonstrator will seek to unlock the potential for nuclear as part of the wider energy mix, by answering the questions that would otherwise go unanswered until SMR and AMR reactors are operating in the 2030s.”

In the first phase of the collaborative project, Frazer-Nash and the Nuclear AMRC will work with hydrogen and nuclear industry partners to investigate the feasibility of a small-scale hydrogen production demonstrator to simulate the output of a range of AMR and SMR designs. This feasibility study will take nine months, supported by funding of around £237,000 from BEIS through the Net Zero Innovation Portfolio’s Low Carbon Hydrogen Supply 2 competition.

Should the study demonstrate value for money and a viable solution, a second phase of the collaboration would then cover detailed design, construction and operation of the facility by 2025.

The project builds on the recommendations of an initial study on the potential for nuclear cogeneration and hydrogen production, led by the Nuclear AMRC with support from Frazer-Nash on behalf of the Catapult network.

The unique combination of uninterrupted low-carbon electricity and heat from conventional reactors can be used to electrolyse water steam into hydrogen at an energy efficiency of up to 85 per cent, significantly higher than current green hydrogen production that electrolyses water at ambient temperatures.

New designs of high-temperature reactor, which can provide temperatures of 800°C or higher, open the door to even more efficient thermochemical water-splitting processes. High-temperature gas reactors are the focus technology for BEIS’s Advanced Modular Reactor (AMR) Research, Development & Demonstration programme.

Frazer-Nash joined the Nuclear AMRC as a member in early 2021 to collaborate on innovative technologies for the nuclear sector and other low-carbon applications.