Hydrogen

The New Frontier in Energy

Constellation's always-on, carbon-free nuclear energy, paired with hydrogen produced by emissions-free power, holds a key to solving the climate crisis.

More than a quarter of global emissions comes from hard-to-decarbonize industries and processes that can't easily switch to carbon-free electricity as a power source. This includes steelmaking, aviation, agriculture and long-haul transportation, to name a few. In other words, it's not enough that Americans get all of our electricity from non-emitting sources and power our cars with batteries. Climate experts agree that a decarbonized electric grid is crucial, but we will need something else.

At Constellation, we believe hydrogen – the most abundant element in the universe – is an essential piece of the solution to fully powering a clean economy. It has long been used as a key ingredient in industrial and agricultural processes. Unfortunately, the hydrogen used today is made primarily with fossil fuels. But thanks to advances in technology, it is now possible to efficiently create hydrogen using carbon-free energy resources.

Carbon-free hydrogen can be produced from clean electricity through a process called electrolysis, a long-established technology that splits water molecules to produce hydrogen and oxygen. The captured hydrogen can then be used directly as a fuel or converted to energy-dense synthetic fuels, or e-fuels, that burn clean and hold the potential to reduce emissions associated with these industries, which are among the largest sources of carbon pollution today.

 

 

 

It is now possible to efficiently create hydrogen through a clean process called electrolysis, which uses carbon-free electricity from renewable, nuclear and hydroelectric energy to separate water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. Unlike fossil fuel processes, electrolysis is pollution-free. In fact, in addition to clean hydrogen, electrolysis actually creates an environmentally beneficial byproduct – oxygen.

Here are some examples of how hydrogen produced from carbon-free generation sources has the potential to transform our economy and act as a game-changer in the fight against climate change:

  • As a drop-in fuel in transportation: Through synthesis with carbon dioxide captured directly from the atmosphere or as a byproduct of industrial processes, hydrogen can be converted into sustainable e-Fuels, such as e-Methane, e-Diesel and e-gasoline or other carbon-based chemicals. These fuels can be used to power long-haul trucks, ships and other vehicles aren't well suited for battery power due to their travel distance, size and weight. Another advantage is that we can start doing this today using existing fueling and storage infrastructure, providing immediate carbon reductions.
  • As back-up power for a clean grid: Hydrogen can be blended with natural gas and used to power generators, helping to reduce carbon emissions from fossil electricity resources. Maintaining a system of easily dispatchable power generation will become increasingly important as more intermittent renewable energy sources are added to the grid. Many of Constellation’s gas-fired power plants could use this type of blended fuel today with little or no modification. In the future, turbines could be modified to burn 100 percent hydrogen, further eliminating emissions while maintaining a reliable electric grid. Similarly, hydrogen fuel cells are a well-established technology that has powered everything from the Apollo space missions to vehicles. These fuel cells could be used as an additional back-up source of emissions-free energy.
  • To make the buildings blocks of our economy: Making steel requires large amounts of heat from fossil fuels, as well as carbon-intensive coke as a feedstock. The result is about 40 million tons of carbon emissions annually. Hydrogen can substitute for coke in the steel production process as well as potentially providing a source of process heat.
  • To feed the planet, sustainably: Ammonia is the second-most commonly produced chemical in the world, finding its way into everything from fertilizer to household cleaning products. Over half the world’s food supply depends on fertilizer made from ammonia, which is currently produced primarily with fossil fuels, producing 27 million tons of carbon emissions annually. However, e-Ammonia can be synthesized from clean hydrogen, producing a sustainable and clean feedstock for fertilizer and other widely used chemicals.

 

No company is better positioned to advance this new frontier in energy, and our nuclear fleet is the foundation on which we will do it. That’s because nuclear and renewable energy together offer a reliable clean energy resource that will be the fastest, most scalable and cost-effective way to produce large amounts of hydrogen from carbon-free energy. Here’s how:

  • Renewable and nuclear energy combine to provide a growing share of energy on the grid.
  • Nuclear plants operate 24/7, helping to “firm-up” renewable energy so that we can make hydrogen 24/7 – just like at Constellation’s clean energy centers.
  • Nuclear plants are located near water, which is needed for electrolysis.
  • By their nature, nuclear plants also are located close to rail and shipping transportation and are typically sited near major industrial and population centers that depend on large amounts of baseload electricity. That means nuclear facilities are already close to the primary users of hydrogen, reducing transportation costs and logistical challenges.
  • Nuclear plants produce waste heat, which increases the efficiency of hydrogen production.

Nuclear is one of the foundational components of Constellation’s business, but our end-state is about solutions – not particular technologies. Already we have formed relationships with national labs, makers of hydrogen technology and end users of hydrogen and its many potential fuel and chemical byproducts. In the future, our nuclear plants will serve not just as nuclear plants, but as clean energy centers capable of delivering emissions-free electricity to the grid and emissions-free hydrogen to end users through pipelines or via truck, rail and water transportation. Some end users may locate their facilities adjacent to our nuclear plants – or "behind the meter” – so they can take direct advantage of our carbon-free electricity and hydrogen output. As the nucleus of a clean energy center, our nuclear plants will serve as a highly valued and essential climate solution well past mid-century, which is the target date for achieving a zero-carbon economy if we are going to avoid a climate catastrophe.

Through a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) grant, we are exploring the potential for clean hydrogen production at Nine Mile Point in upstate New York. Learn more about this exciting project.

Here's how it will work: A Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) electrolyzer will be installed and will use the station’s existing hydrogen storage system and supporting infrastructure to produce hydrogen with emissions-free power. Simply put, the electrolyzer will split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen using electricity from the plant.

Project construction will get underway this summer and hydrogen production is expected to begin as early as December.

The production of hydrogen at Nine Mile Point will not impact the station’s ability to provide safe and reliable carbon-free power to the regional grid. And because a nuclear power station is being utilized, the hydrogen will be produced with zero carbon emissions.

Constellation is providing the energy to transform our future.