SALT LAKE CITY - Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL) announced that they have demonstrated how nuclear power could be used to efficiently produce large quantities of hydrogen for fuel cell use. The INEEL researchers have teamed with Ceramatec Inc. to produce hydrogen using high-temperature electrolysis.

While conventional electrolysis involves running an electrical current through water to produce hydrogen and oxygen - typically at conversion efficiencies of about 30 percent - high-temperature electrolysis is able to achieve substantially higher conversion efficiencies, say the researchers. The INEEL research team announced that it has been able to convert 45 to 50 percent of the input energy into hydrogen using their high-temperature electrolysis process, which produces 50 liters of hydrogen per hour. Since the process requires both electricity and a high-temperature heat source, nuclear reactors are said to be ideal for the task.

"We've shown that hydrogen can be produced at temperatures and pressures suitable for a Generation IV reactor," said lead INEEL researcher Steve Herring. "The simple and modular approach we've taken with our research partners produces either hydrogen or electricity, and most notable of all, achieves the highest-known production rate of hydrogen by high-temperature electrolysis."

This development is viewed as a crucial first step toward large-scale production of hydrogen from water, rather than fossil fuels.

Publication date: 12/20/2004