Memorandum submitted by British Nuclear
Fuels PLC (BNFL)
While carbon emissions from industry and the
electricity generation sector have been falling, they have risen
steadily in the transport sector. Indeed recent figures
show that energy consumption in the transport sector doubled between
1970 and 2004, with the aviation sector showing the strongest
growtha trebling of energy consumption over the same period.
Since transport is still dominated by petroleum
fuels, this growth in energy consumption represents a sustained
increase in carbon emissions, even accounting for the improvements
in vehicle efficiency, and is one of the reasons why UK emissions
are now rising in spite of commitments to reduce them substantially
over the coming decades.
Transport continues to be a major growth sector,
and is expected to remain so. This upward trend must therefore
be addressed urgently if the UK is going to achieve its long term
emission reduction objectives. However, the transport sector is
built around fossil fuels, so technological change is likely to
take many yearseven decadesto have a major impact.
We therefore urge the Committee to take a long-term approach to
the issue of carbon emissions from transport.
A switch to a hydrogen economy will increase demand
for electricity, which emphasises the need to increase the generation
share of nuclear and renewables.
Making public transport more attractive can
help reduce demand, but personal transport is likely to remain
significant. A step change in the transport sector will be needed
at some point, to move away from the internal combustion engine
if major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are to be achieved.
As part of the hydrogen economy, the hydrogen fuel cell offers
the potential over coming decades to eliminate greenhouse gases
and other harmful emissions.
Moving to a hydrogen economy could generate
an enormous demand for hydrogen fuel. This could be produced from
electrolytic dissolution of water, by steam reforming or else
by direct chemical dissociation at high temperature. To keep life-cycle
greenhouse gas emissions low, renewables and nuclear should be
used to supply any electricity required. (If the high temperature
route is chosen, future high temperature reactors would be a particularly
effective means of achieving these temperatures.) But, if producing
sufficient electricity for conventional usage while reducing greenhouse
gas emissions by 60-80% is challenging, then the potentially huge
additional requirements for large-scale hydrogen emphasise the
need to use both renewables and nuclear energy. Effective large-scale
production would require continuous baseload power, which is best
supplied by nuclear means.
In this respect, the partnership of a hydrogen
economy driven primarily by nuclear power represents a win/win
situation. When consumer demand for electricity is high, nuclear
can operate reliably to generate large amounts of baseload power,
and when consumer demand falls away (eg overnight) the nuclear
electricity can be diverted to produce substantial quantities
of clean hydrogen for distribution to vehicle power systems.
Such an approach also helps renewable technologies
overcome the issues of variable output. A switch to a hydrogen
economy, using low-carbon electricity for hydrogen production,
will have the benefit of disconnecting the end user demand from
the time of electricity production. Hydrogen fuel will be, in
essence, an energy storage medium. One of the key challenges associated
with renewable generation may be removed if hydrogen production
plant can utilise an intermittent and variable electricity input.
Using electricity for hydrogen production could
also help support a higher level of nuclear generation capacity.
Nuclear plant run best in baseload modewhich would be ideal
for large-scale hydrogen production. Nuclear plant can be built
to power hydrogen production plants round the clock at the very
high availability that modern plant offers.
5 UK Energy Sector Indicators 2005; DTI, July 2005 Back