As part of the Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP) project, an evaluation of a low-temperature heat-pump interface design for a nuclear-driven high-temperature electrolysis (HTE) hydrogen production plant was performed using the UniSim process analysis software. The low-temperature interface design is intended to reduce the interface temperature between the reactor power conversion system and the hydrogen production plant by extracting process heat from the low temperature portion of the power cycle rather than from the high-temperature portion of the cycle as is done with the current Idaho National Laboratory (INL) reference design. The intent of this design change is to mitigate the potential for tritium migration from the reactor core to the hydrogen plant, and reduce the potential for high temperature creep in the interface structures. The UniSim model assumed a 600 MWt Very-High Temperature Reactor (VHTR) operating at a primary system pressure of 7.0 MPa and a reactor outlet temperature of 900°C. The low-temperature heat-pump loop is a water/steam loop that operates between 2.6 MPa and 5.0 MPa. The HTE hydrogen production loop operated at 5 MPa, with plant conditions optimized to maximize plant performance (i.e., 800°C electrolysis operating temperature, area specific resistance (ASR) = 0.4 ohm-cm2, and a current density of 0.25 amps/cm2). An air sweep gas system was used to remove oxygen from the anode side of the electrolyzer. Heat was also recovered from the hydrogen and oxygen product streams to maximize hydrogen production efficiencies. The results of the UniSim analysis showed that the low-temperature interface design was an effective heat-pump concept, transferring 31.5 MWt from the low-temperature leg of the gas turbine power cycle to the HTE process boiler, while consuming 16.0 MWe of compressor power. However, when this concept was compared with the current INL reference direct Brayton cycle design and with a modification of the reference design to simulate an indirect Brayton cycle (both with heat extracted from the high-temperature portion of the power cycle), the latter two concepts had higher overall hydrogen production rates and efficiencies compared to the low-temperature heat-pump concept, but at the expense of higher interface temperatures. Therefore, the ultimate decision on the viability of the low-temperature heat-pump concept involves a tradeoff between the benefits of a lower-temperature interface between the power conversion system and the hydrogen production plant, and the reduced hydrogen production efficiency of the low-temperature heat-pump concept compared to concepts using high-temperature process heat.

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