Research & Development

Japan / Mitsubishi To Lead Development Of HTGR Programme For Clean Hydrogen

By David Dalton
26 July 2023

Reactor planned for operation in 2030s

Mitsubishi To Lead Development Of HTGR Programme For Clean Hydrogen
An illustration of a clean hydrogen production plant using an HTGR. Courtesy MHI.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) has been chosen by Japan’s Agency for Natural Resources and Energy to lead the development of a high temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR) programme aimed at producing clean hydrogen.

MHI said it will coordinate the research and development, design and construction of the HTGR demonstration reactor that the agency plans to put into operation in the 2030s.

The company said that to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, initiatives have begun to use clean hydrogen in industrial sectors such as iron and steel, and chemicals, along with transportation and other hard-to-abate industries.

HTGRs, also known as very-high-temperature reactors (VHTRs) are Generation IV reactors that can operate at very high temperatures and use a graphite-moderated gas-cooled nuclear reactor with a once-through uranium fuel cycle, meaning the fuel is not reprocessed.

MHI said HTGRs are capable of supplying the high-temperature heat of around 900°C that can be used to produce clean hydrogen.

“With such a carbon free, high-temperature heat source, stable and industrial scale production of hydrogen can be realised… and when applied to various industrial sectors, this will achieve significant decarbonisation,” MHI said.

MHI has been pursuing the development of HTGRs since the 1970s and said it has accumulated technologies through its role as the principal company for the construction of a high temperature engineering test reactor (HTTR) for the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA).

The company has also been taking part in a demonstration programme to produce hydrogen using the HTTR, connecting a hydrogen production plant to the reactor unit as part of a demonstration test for hydrogen production.

NEA Warns On ‘Pracical Applicability’

The HTTR, north of Tokyo in Oarai, Ibaraki Prefecture, is a small prototype HTGR. The plant achieved first criticality in November 1998.

Last year Japan and Poland signed an agreement to cooperate on high-HTGR technology with the aim of building a plant in the European country.

Poland expects HTGRs to help decarbonise the non-power sectors of its industry by providing heat for large industrial consumers like those in the chemicals sector.

The Nuclear Energy Agency said in a 2022 report that HTGRs are a mature form of technology, but no HTGR has been connected to an industrial process and the technology “has yet to demonstrate its practical applicability.

It said safety features and flexibility in terms of design, operation and deployment enable HTGRs to meet a wide range of operating and site requirements at hundreds of industrial facilities worldwide.

HTGR heat could be applied to various industrial sectors including district heating, seawater desalination, bitumen recovery from oil sands, chemical complexes and soda ash production, the NEA said.

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