Hydrogen or Electricity: A Nuclear Fork in the Road

Article derived from a position paper entitled 'Nuclear Energy and the Future, the Hydrogen Economy or the Electricity Economy?'

Published: 29-Mar-2005

Many groups have joined the hydrogen discussion, each bringing a different set of assumptions and a different definition of what "the hydrogen economy" means to them. Hydrogen and "the hydrogen economy" are of particular interest to the US nuclear energy community because of their potential to steer next generation reactor design decisions to meet a presumed niche opportunity for hydrogen production via high-temperature thermo-chemical processes or high-temperature electrolysis. We should, therefore, seriously consider the future hydrogen market and understand the source for the momentum to develop "the hydrogen economy."

It is useful to review nuclear energy’s strengths and define what "the hydrogen economy" means to the nuclear energy community to set the stage for cataloging which sub-topics ought to be discussed. Nuclear energy is mankind’s only non-greenhouse-gas(GHG)-emitting, ‘round-the-clock, regardless-of-the-weather, stationary energy source. Nuclear energy is particularly adept at making electricity.

"The Hydrogen Economy" is understood to imply a reconfiguration of the US transportation system into one based on hydrogen as the fuel in replacement of the transportation sector's present energy source, petroleum. The hydrogen fuel, it is further understood, will be the energy carrier by which stationary-source energy is carried to the transportation sector. Since transportation accounts for a full third of US’ annual energy consumption, and about two thirds of US petroleum consumption, it is only reasonable that all stationary energy source communities should want to realistically survey the issues that will effect the possibility and timing of an opportunity to broadly extend their stationary-source energy to the transportation sector.

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