The Idaho National Laboratory (INL) has made a breakthrough in high temperature production of hydrogen gas. By using High-Temperature Electrolysis (HTE) of steam, the water vapor components of hydrogen and oxygen can be broken apart more easily.
Many current day nuclear reactors use the heat generated from the radioactive process to change water into very high pressure steam, which turns the blades of steam turbines to produce electricity. The steam is then cooled and turned back into water.
What INL is proposing is that some of this steam be electrolyzed and turned into hydrogen. By running an electric current through steam instead of water, much less energy needs to be used in this “cracking” process.
Now, the INL is not new to using nuclear reactors to crack steam into hydrogen. In November 2006, I had talked about how the INL (not to be confused with the crew from SNL or even the INS) was building a Generation-IV thermochemical cracking nuclear reactor to create both hydrogen and electricity on a commercial scale.
Unlike the HTE process, however, thermochemical cracking involves heating water into steam and then applying a chemical agent (not electricity) to split the vapor into hydrogen and oxygen. The INL is calling its high temperature electrolysis method a breakthrough in hydrogen generation that it is currently working to scale up for commercialization purposes.