OSWEGO — The Nine Mile Point nuclear power plants for decades have generated enough electricity to power millions of homes, and the facility is now looking to branch out into hydrogen production with the help of a federal grant.
Exelon Generation announced Wednesday the company received a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) grant to explore the potential benefits of onsite hydrogen production at the Nine Mile Point Nuclear Station. Exelon plans to install the necessary facilities and components for the project and commence operations next year.
Nine Mile Point is a multi-reactor nuclear power facility located northeast of Oswego in the town of Scriba along the shore of Lake Ontario.
According to DOE, hydrogen is an energy carrier that can be used to store massive amounts of energy for grid resilience and security, in addition to being a critical feedstock for portions of the chemical industry. Hydrogen, which is a natural byproduct of nuclear energy, is primarily used for oil refining and ammonia production, but there is growing demand in steel manufacturing and hydrogen-powered vehicles.
Exelon said the company plans to partner with Nel Hydrogen, Argonne National Laboratory, Idaho National Laboratory, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to demonstrate integrated production, storage and normal usage of hydrogen at the station.
Company officials said the project would generate an economical supply of hydrogen that could be safely captured, stored and potentially taken to market as a 100 percent carbon-free source of power for other purposes, including industrial applications such as transportation.
“This partnership with DOE reflects our continued commitment to innovation and further demonstrates the immense value of our nuclear fleet and its ability to provide carbon-free energy to the communities we serve,” said Dave Rhoades, chief nuclear officer, Exelon Generation. “Among our many options, we chose the New York site recognizing the strong partnership that we have had with the state, including the support for nuclear energy provided through the New York Public Service Commission’s Clean Energy Standard.”
The Clean Energy Standard is a state program adopted in 2016 that could provide up to $7 million in subsidies to nuclear power plants in New York over a dozen years in order to maintain the facilities’ economic viability and contribution toward the state’s clean energy goals.
The DOE last year, noting the number of nuclear reactors in the U.S. has dwindled in recent years, said nuclear power plants have an opportunity to produce hydrogen and potentially maintain commercial viability in light of economic pressures.
The amount of hydrogen safely stored at the site will not change significantly as a result of the initiative and plant staff is fully prepared to support the project using existing operational protocols, according to Exelon.
Exelon officials said a proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) electrolyzer would be installed and utilize the station’s existing hydrogen storage system and other support infrastructure. Operations are expected to start in 2022.
Ten million metric tons of hydrogen is produced in the U.S. each year, according to the DOE said, most of which comes from natural gas.
Exelon Generation received a conditional DOE cost-share grant in October 2019, according to S&P Global, and the program was finalized in April 2020 with plans to install a 1MW scale PEM electrolyzer and supporting infrastructure at one of its nuclear plants.
S&P Global noted the three-year project’s budget is roughly $7.2 million, with the utility and DOE splitting the cost. An Exelon spokesperson said the DOE awarded approximately $5 million dollars to support the hydrogen production project at Nine Mile Point Nuclear Station.
Exelon owns the nearby James A. FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant, in addition to Nine Mile Point Unit 1 and Unit 2. Exelon is one of the region’s largest employers, and contributes nearly $30 million in taxes annually to the surrounding communities.