French utility EDF is on course to produce the UK’s first “pink” hydrogen made from nuclear power after receiving a £6.1m ($7.65m) grant from the UK government — “a figure that will be matched by the project partners”.
The so-called ‘Bay Hydrogen Hub – Hydrogen4Hanson’ pilot project is due to take small amounts of electricity and steam from EDF’s 1.25GW Heysham 2 nuclear power plant in northwest England and run them through an on-site 1MW solid-oxide electrolyser (SOE) to produce hydrogen.
Using both power and heat allows SOEs to produce at least 20% more hydrogen per kWh than a proton-exchange membrane (PEM) electrolyser.
The pink H2 will then be transported in tankers to the Criggion asphalt plant in North Wales, run by building materials supplier Hanson, where it will be used “to fuel the industrial processes which presently use a mix of liquid fossil fuel” — namely kerosene or processed fuel oil.
“At present, no facility in the world has used hydrogen as a fuel for asphalt production,” says EDF.
The company explains in its feasibility study that asphalt made in the UK has an average production carbon intensity of about 25kg per tonne of product — 22.6kg of which is from the combustion process.
“[The] high energy requirement [from conventional fossil-fuel burners] makes direct electric alternatives challenging, especially for variable batch plant processes due to limitations on the electricity grid network and cost of grid connection,” says the study, which was prepared in March this year.
“There are currently no known plans to develop electric rotary kilns for the asphalt sector.”
Road surfaces are mainly lined with asphalt — which consists of aggregate (a stone-based mix of gravel, crushed rock and sand, and sometimes waste products) bound together with bitumen, a sticky, black viscous liquid derived from petroleum. Confusingly, bitumen is referred to as asphalt in the US.
In a 100MW commercial-scale SOE plant, nuclear hydrogen would only add £3.70 per tonne to the £302/tonne expected cost of asphalt in 2035 — while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by about 90%.
“If fuel switching to hydrogen can be proven, this could be one of the most promising decarbonisation levers within the asphalt industry,” the feasibility study says, adding that the technology could equally be used in cement production.
The combined government and industry funding, exceeding £15m, “will go towards developing a final design for the hydrogen production, distribution and end-use technology and for exploring the full costs and delivery plans”, says EDF.
If the project does go ahead as planned, it does not appear to be a long-term proposition. EDF announced last year that Heysham 2, which began operations in 1988, will stop producing electricity in 2028, having well exceeded its original 30-year lifespan.
The project partners consist of EDF, Hanson, the National Nuclear Laboratory, and the Vulcan Asphalt Group, which will supply the burners.
The feasibility study was carried out in collaboration with UK-based SOE manufacturer Ceres Power, but that company is not listed among the project partners.