Advantageous, but dangerous nuclear power
Nuclear bombs that hastened the defeat of Japan in World War II are the most powerful weapons in the world. A nuclear power plant that uses the powerful energy of nuclear fission continuously produces electricity, like an unextinguished fire, for decades once it is constructed. It doesn’t emit CO₂ unlike thermoelectric power plants and therefore doesn’t directly contribute to climate change, nor is its location restricted or influenced by geophysics, like wind power or hydroelectric power generation. A nuclear-powered submarine, for example, can remain underwater for months without breaking the surface, while a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, in theory, doesn’t require fuel supply for years until its retirement once launched.
Source | KEPCO Nuclear Fuel
This undying fire that keeps producing electricity is nuclear power generation, but Fukushima, Japan, has been suffering great difficulties because of such unextinguished fires. When disrupted, nuclear is an extremely dangerous form of energy that even the third largest economy in the world cannot easily handle, as the Fukushima nuclear plant has been discharging radioactive contaminants and polluting nearby seas and lands for nine years since the nuclear accident in 2011.
The world’s three worst nuclear accidents are the Three Mile Island accident in the U.S., the Chernobyl disaster in the Soviet Union and the Fukusima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan. They all occurred in countries with the world’s best technologies, so no one can guarantee complete safety from nuclear accidents.
General fission waste products from nuclear power plants include cesium-137 and strontium-90, which need to be properly stored for 900 years. Radioisotopes with intermediate half-lives, such as uranium-232 and samarium-90, should be buried for about 2,000 years and transuranium isotope plutonium-240 needs to be contained for 100,000 years, hence it is difficult to choose a site for controlling them. Considering the cost and risk related to waste treatment, nuclear power generation likely will never be an economical power generating method.
A thermoelectric power plant is the most widely used for power generation. Thermal power generation has become the main method to generate electricity and accounts for about 67% of global power generation since the first commercial thermal power plant was built by Thomas A. Edison in 1882. Howeversuch power plants emit a large amount of harmful polluted materials into the air; cause air and water pollution and an increase in premature mortality and morbidity; and aggravate climate change with high level of carbon emissions. Air pollution is also heightened considerably by fine dust produced from thermal power plants.
Source | © GREENPEACE 2015
Hydroelectric power generation is economically feasible and emits low levels of pollutants and carbon, but it has limited energy output due to geopolitical criteria as well as environmental destruction issues caused by dam construction.
Technological advancements have been made in eco-friendly power generation methods using renewable sources, including solar and wind, and it is these technologies that are expanding around the globe.
A Technology Like the Sun, Hydrogen Nuclear Fusion
We do know about another undying fire. That is the sun. At the core of the sun, the constant collision of hydrogen nuclei sustains a nuclear fusion reaction in which the hydrogen nuclei are changed to alpha particles. At this point, the mass defect is converted into an equal amount of energy. The hydrogen nuclear fusion reaction led to the development of the hydrogen bomb in the U.S. in 1952, which is more powerful than a nuclear bomb.
If such powerful and infinite hydrogen nuclear fusion energy were readily available, many of the energy issues of humankind could be addressed. Scientists of different countries are dedicated to research into how to generate artificial solar energy and have realized the necessity of global cooperation to accelerate the advancement of the nuclear fusion technology.
Various countries have accelerated the study of nuclear fusion through an international joint development project, ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) since the early 2000s. KFE (Korea Institute of Fusion Energy) completed ‘KSTAR’ in September 2007, and it is assessed as the most advanced nuclear fusion device.
Source | KFE
The ITER Organization held the ITER Assembly Kick-off Ceremony in Cadarache, France on July 28th, 2020, and the main assembly of an artificial sun, ITER, has begun with seven countries (Korea included) participating in the construction. Machine assembly of each ITER key component supplied by participants, such as the U.S., the EU, Russia, China, India and Japan has begun. The organization intends to construct a thermonuclear power plant with 500MW thermal output by 2025, and operate it until 2040, generating electricity for about 200,000 households.
Source | KFE
Source | KFE
In nuclear fusion generation using the artificial sun principle, deuterium and tritium gas is sprayed into a huge donut-shaped ‘Tokamak’ vacuum vessel and hydrogen is changed into plasma form by heating. When heating this plasma to 150 million degrees Celsius, a nuclear fusion reaction occurs and releases heat from ultra-high energy neutrons, which actuates a steam turbine to generate electricity.
Raw materials deuterium and tritium can be obtained from seawater and lithium and are in abundant enough supply for millions of years yet. Its energy efficiency is also very high as fuel the size of a pineapple can produce as much electricity as 10,000 tons of coal. The cost required for construction and operation of a thermonuclear power plant is similar to that of a nuclear power plant, though it is green power generation without producing radioactive waste.
Leading Hydrogen Energy Market, the Fuel Cell
There is another way to generate electricity using hydrogen and that is the hydrogen fuel cell. Hydrogen Fuel Cell is a technology for generating electric power using hydrogen as fuel. It is an electrochemical technology to produce electricity and water from hydrogen and oxygen through reserve reaction of water electrolysis.
Source | Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association (FCHEA)
Thermochemically, fossil fuels have relatively low energy production efficiency, whereas fuel cells do not involve a fuel combustion process nor the conversion of thermal energy to mechanical energy. Hence, fuel cells have a higher energy production efficiency than existing fossil fuels. For a common fossil fuel engine, smaller output refers to decreased generating efficiency. However, fuel cells have constant efficiency regardless of the output scale, which is another advantage.
Unlike fossil fuels, fuel cells do not emit harmful gas nor fine dust, therefore power plants can be constructed in urban areas. Thus, installation and operation of individual power plants can be accomplished in different areas, including cities, mountains and islands, in accordance with power requirements. Operating independent power plants can also address various issues related to centralized plant operation, such as major blackouts.
The hydrogen fuel cell consumption market in Korea has been on the rise. IBK Securities reported that fuel cell supply goals are 15 GW (48 times) for power generation and 2.1 GW (300 times) for residences and commercial buildings. According to the roadmap to realize a hydrogen economy announced by the Korean government in January 2019, 307.6 MW (41 units) of fuel cells for power generation was supplied in 2018. The plan aims to reduce installation cost and generation cost by 65% and 50%, respectively, decreasing the generation cost to the same level as small and medium size LNG power generation facilities, and to supply 15 GW of fuel cells by 2040. For residences and commercial buildings, fuel cells supplied in 2018 amounted to 7 MW (3,167 units); the plan is to increase that to 50 MW by 2022 and 2.1 GW by 2040.
Source | Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, IBK Securities
The international hydrogen fuel cell market has been activated as well. Japan’s Fuji Keizai reported that the fuel cell market would grow 28-fold compared to 2017 to ￥4.9275 trillion (about ₩50 trillion) by 2030. It also forecasted that the Asian region, including Korea, China and Japan, would account for more than half of the market share, 58% by 2030 from 45% in 2018.
Source | Fuji Keizai (2018), H2 News, IBK Securities
As described above, hydrogen fuel cells are expected to play a pivotal role in the renewable energy business, along with solar energy. If Q CELLS uses hydrogen for the storage and transportation of electricity produced from PV generation, it would be much more efficient than the existing method. Hence, Q CELLS would be well advised to take interest in hydrogen fuel cell technology to create good synergy with its other businesses.
When creating a low-carbon green society based on future renewable energy, hydrogen energy technology will be essential to take the lead in electrical power technology in the global market. Furthermore, it is hoped that hydrogen energy technology would solve environmental and energy issues as soon as possible.