When a Chevrolet Volt undergoing crash testing caught fire in a delayed fashion last year, the airwaves filled up with (incorrect) reports of how dangerous battery-powered vehicles are. Now, fears of a "catastrophic" explosion involving another gasoline alternative, hydrogen, are putting plans for a new, $3-million refueling station project at San Francisco airport on hold.

Airport director John Martin wrote a report to airport commissioners in which he advocated cancelling the project. Specifically, he wrote: "A hydrogen explosion in close proximity to active runways and a highway could be catastrophic and result in significant loss of life. ... These risk factors portend an incompatibility for a hydrogen fuel station near active runways and major roadways." Well, yeah.

It's good to be careful, but an hydrogen re-fueling station explosion like this hasn't happened. Also, remember that, in a June 2010 report from the National Fire Protection Association (PDF), "In 2003-2007, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 287,000 vehicle fires per year," and we're pretty sure airplanes burn fuel. Still, the region does have some experience with explosive hydrogen. Earlier this year, in Emeryville, a hydrogen fuel tank at a bus yard leaked and caused a small fire, forcing evacuations.

SFO will likely stop plans for the H2 station since Linde, which was supposed to build the station, "rejected airport officials' demand to accept full legal responsibility for any mishaps on the wedge-shaped site near Millbrae Avenue," writes the Mercury News.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 87 Comments
      Dave
      • 2 Years Ago
      "SFO will likely stop plans for the H2 station since Linde, which was supposed to build the station, "rejected airport officials' demand to accept full legal responsibility for any mishaps on the wedge-shaped site near Millbrae Avenue," writes the Mercury News. " Wording is very important. "full legal responsibility for ANY mishaps on the wedge-shaped site" would include full responsibility for damage caused by a plane or an airport vehicle crashing onto / into the fueling station. I doubt that the lawyers from a savvy corporation such as Linde would accept that kind of blanket liability and I doubt that the company that built the avgas station(s) would either.
        Elmo Biggins
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Dave
        Obviously, it would include damage caused by a plane. The explosion from hydrogen station would make a bad situation guaranteededly catastrophic. It would be a domino effect of exploding planes on the tarmac, not to mention what might happen to the actual airport itself. The thing could collapse. Look what a hydrogen build up (and explosion) did to this nuclear reactor: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pVp2NnY16g0
          Dave
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Elmo Biggins
          "guaranteededly" rofl
        Spec
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Dave
        I'm pretty sure the words of the Mercury News reporter don't spell out the entire contract. It is pretty hard to make any educated judgment on that aspect w/o a lot more info.
        paulwesterberg
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Dave
        That wedge shaped piece of land just happens to be right next to the end of one of the SFO runways. If there are safety concerns then it would be good to have a little more distance between it and aircraft.
        Dave
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Dave
        Personally, I think that "Airport director John Martin" didnt want the headaches of being the first to try a new technology which doesnt have a firmly established vendor basis or safety history. Its understandable. There are better places to break in new technologies than an airport.
          Joeviocoe
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Dave
          But very few better places than San Francisco to test out a Green technology.
      • 2 Years Ago
      After reading the article, I decided to comment on the news in a way, that [maybe] I don't have to tremble with fear to be downgraded into oblivion on ABG; HYDROGEN [FUELL CELL] IS CRAZY HYDROGEN [FUELL CELL] WILL NEVER BE Krisz #hydrogenisdangerous
        Joeviocoe
        • 2 Years Ago
        Well, read the comments... you'll see that nobody is saying that.... but are defending H2 stations as 'no more dangerous than other types of fuel'. So either you're paranoid, or love to build straw men.
          Joeviocoe
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Joeviocoe
          Hydrogen must be handled with extra care since the H2 molecule likes to escape and is very reactive with nearly everything, which tends to be more expensive.... but with proper engineering, the fuel does not pose any additional risks.
          Letstakeawalk
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Joeviocoe
          Thank you for a sensible support of an energy carrier that like every other energy carrier must be handled properly.
          Elmo Biggins
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Joeviocoe
          Hydrogen fool cells are crazy. $3MILLION to build it plus another $2.4MILLION for hydrogen buses...at an airport?? 1. Thats an insane liability. Even their own safety investigation concluded hydrogen was dangerously incompatible airport safety. Hydrogen definitely stands out among other types of fuels as dangerous due to its instability and propensity to find even the tiniest of spaces to leak out and pool into an invisible bomb waiting for the right moment...then http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31QiQbTS7eE&feature=related 2. They could get electric buses for much cheaper, and their would be no risk of a catastrophic hydrogen explosion 3. That airport has a tram system. Its just not needed. Likely the only reason to even consider the monstrosity is grants and write-offs.
        Marcopolo
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Joeviocoe "Well, read the comments... you'll see that nobody is saying that.... but are defending H2 stations as 'no mo re dangerous than other types of fuel'. So either you're paranoid, or love to build straw men." Um, Joe, read some of the comments by Elmo Biggins, paulwesterberg, Spec,Dan Frederiksen. and then tell me that krisztiant, doesn't have a point !
      • 2 Years Ago
      It seems to me that a busy natural gas fueling station operates at the same location as the hydrogen station. Is the airport closing that station down, or making the station operator assume all risks? This bodes poorly for adopting anything new or different. Have we become such a ligitious society that people like John Martin will ignore safety reports and expert opinion for fear of being sued?
        Elmo Biggins
        • 2 Years Ago
        What does a safety assessment that concludes: "A hydrogen explosion in close proximity to active runways and a highway could be catastrophic and result in significant loss of life. ... These risk factors portend an incompatibility for a hydrogen fuel station near active runways and major roadways." ..have to do with lawsuits? The airport would be bankrupted and criminally liable if they ignored this assessment, built the hydrogen station anyway, and it did blow. These things are dangerous and SHOULD NOT be where alot of people are.
      Rick
      • 2 Years Ago
      Spruce Goose of the automotive world? or Hydrogen micro bead cells might be the big breakthrough? Cella has developed ‘micro beads’ – 30 times smaller than a grain of sand – that can trap and release hydrogen when heated. And because the beads are small enough to flow like liquid, refuelling could even be done at any gas station. They are less volatile than gasoline, and can used in any car with any modifications required. http://inhabitat.com/uk-firm-develops-hydrogen-micro-beads-that-could-fuel-cars-for-1-50-per-gallon/
        2 Wheeled Menace
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Rick
        I can already think of a downside, that is, if these actually work.. Lower energy density..
        2 Wheeled Menace
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Rick
        and lower efficiency ( hydrogen to electricity or motion efficiency is already rather low )
          2 Wheeled Menace
          • 2 Years Ago
          @2 Wheeled Menace
          A little more efficient, yes. I've seen 40%-50% efficiency figures quoted. Anything beats internal combustion, but that's pretty bad.
          paulwesterberg
          • 2 Years Ago
          @2 Wheeled Menace
          *When compared to battery electric divetrains. But hydrogen fuel cell systems are more efficient than internal combustion.
          Letstakeawalk
          • 2 Years Ago
          @2 Wheeled Menace
          "I've seen 40%-50% efficiency figures quoted." Please update your archives - now you've seen 40-60% efficiency quoted. http://www1.eere.energy.gov/hydrogenandfuelcells/pdfs/fct_h2_fuelcell_factsheet.pdf http://unit.aist.go.jp/hydrogenius/ci/event/ihdf2012/pdf/1-2kawai.pdf
          Letstakeawalk
          • 2 Years Ago
          @2 Wheeled Menace
          Please note that this reflects 2010 data, and that the latest improvements might not be reflected in the report. "The Japan Hydrogen and Fuel Cell (JHFC) Demonstration Project finished its second phase in 2010 and began preparing to support commercialization. Over eight years, JHFC tested 135 passenger cars over more than 1 million km of road use, and tested 13 buses that traveled more than 400,000 km. JHFC reported bench test efficiencies of 60 percent and on-road fuel economy of up to 70 miles per gallon in the newest passenger cars." http://www1.eere.energy.gov/hydrogenandfuelcells/pdfs/2010_market_report.pdf Toyota typically quotes the FCHV-adv as having 60% efficiency. Honda likewise quotes a 60% efficiency for the Clarity. http://automobiles.honda.com/fcx-clarity/fuel-cell-comparison.aspx I understand that you'd like to debate the specifics of how and when they achieve that efficiency, or if you even believe that claim at all... but that is not the point I was addressing. 2WM stated that he had only heard efficiencies quoted up to 50% - and I have clearly provided two major automakers as well as a government testing agency quoting a higher 60% figure. I only hope that he accepts that 60% efficiency has been reported, and that in the future he might acknowledge that he has been informed of that.
          Joeviocoe
          • 2 Years Ago
          @2 Wheeled Menace
          Okay, LTAW, that makes sense and it certainly viable since efficiency numbers are really up for much interpretation and they are measuring vehicles actually built. I just hope they are not giving best case numbers. But even if they were, it would be fair since BEV makers do the same.
          Joeviocoe
          • 2 Years Ago
          @2 Wheeled Menace
          There is no indication that a 60% efficient PEM Fuel Cell stack will necessarily be just as cheap, compact, or have be able to maintain 60% average through most driving conditions. We don't know if this 60% will be an extreme value that cannot really be obtained outside of a lab or not. Not until we have a demonstration FCV running it on a standard drive cycle. Curious, what exactly was the average PEM efficiency for the tested demonstration vehicles, Honda FCX Clarity and Toyota FCHV-adv??
          2 Wheeled Menace
          • 2 Years Ago
          @2 Wheeled Menace
          I acknowledge it, LTAW, and even gave you an upvote. Those papers were actually an interesting read.
      Nick
      • 2 Years Ago
      Did people forget gasoline, diesel and jet fuel all burn ?
        Spec
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Nick
        Liquid fuels tend to be much safer than gas fuels. Liquids burn. Gas explodes. That's why we have carburetors and fuel injectors to turn gasoline into a fine mist before it explodes in a piston chamber.
          DaveMart
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Spec
          Petrol and gasoline are heavy, and flow around burning everything in their path. Hydrogen being light rises swiftly, often dissipating much of the energy. The problem at Fukushima was that incomprehensibly they did not have proper venting, or there would have been no explosion. It is swings and roundabouts on dangers, and both need proper handling and design.
          Nick
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Spec
          Spec Why don't you try it yourself, set fire to a gasoline tank and tell me if it doesn't explode ! Hydrogen mostly dissipates quickly because it is extremely light.
      mapoftazifosho
      • 2 Years Ago
      Yeah, this never happens with gas stations... http://screen.yahoo.com/gas-station-explosion-25775327.html
        Elmo Biggins
        • 2 Years Ago
        @mapoftazifosho
        And this is what happens with hydrogen http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31QiQbTS7eE&feature=related
      paulwesterberg
      • 2 Years Ago
      Martin says Linde LLC rejected airport officials' demand to accept full legal responsibility for any mishaps on the wedge-shaped site near Millbrae Avenue. At the same time, airport officials were left feeling skittish after the Pacific Gas & Electric natural gas line blast in San Bruno, hydrogen detonations at the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan and the fireball during a May hydrogen leak at an AC Transit facility in Emeryville.
        paulwesterberg
        • 2 Years Ago
        @paulwesterberg
        Poor choice of words?: "That was a dynamite site," Napier said. "It's hard to find one as good as that."
          Dan Frederiksen
          • 2 Years Ago
          @paulwesterberg
          lol
          Spec
          • 2 Years Ago
          @paulwesterberg
          Yeah, that was hysterical. And the writer obviously saw it to and used that last sentence as a punchline.
      2 Wheeled Menace
      • 2 Years Ago
      Wait, 3 million dollars for a single refueling station? i thought hydrogen infrastructure was gonna be pennies on the dollar.. what gives? ;D
        Dave
        • 2 Years Ago
        @2 Wheeled Menace
        Since we don't know how much hydrogen the station was designed to dispense, there is no telling whether this was a good deal or not. If it dispensed 1500 kg per day (enough to support a fleet of 3000 cars) then it would be "pennies on the dollar" at $1,000 per car vs. $13,500 per car for public BEV chargers. If, OTOH, it only dispensed 100 kg per day, it would be close to the same cost as those public chargers.
          Elmo Biggins
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Dave
          Obviously, there is telling. The airport conducted a safety and liability assessment and you can read their results in the article: "These risk factors portend an incompatibility for a hydrogen fuel station near active runways and major roadways." Why would you question whether their would be a significant enough volume of storage - for a hydrogen station at an airport - to question their safety investigation? You think you know more than the actual investigators and operators at the airport who studied the risks?
          Dave
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Dave
          "Too bad a BEV doesn't NEED a public charger... but a FCV NEEDS public hydrogen stations." Take a drive around the country and you'll find that many apartment dwellers need public chargers because they park on the street every night.
          Joeviocoe
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Dave
          "vs. $13,500 per car for public BEV chargers." Yeah... I hear C.E. Sandy Thomas' voice there. Too bad a BEV doesn't NEED a public charger... but a FCV NEEDS public hydrogen stations.
          Joeviocoe
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Dave
          Apartment dwellers might have to wait a bit longer for cheaper Level 2 public chargers to become available. They won't cost $13,000 for very long. Level 1 charging is a MUCH cheaper short term solution. The wiring for street and garage lighting is already there... and won't take much to add another 12 amp capacity for a simple Level 1 EVSE. And at 120v 12 amp... that is 1.4 KW. Not much, but enough to give 30 - 40 miles every day if the car is parked overnight.
          Elmo Biggins
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Dave
          Not even going near your fuzzy math. You can buy actual BEV public chargers for about what you say is the cost "per car". The cost for this station, at an airport, would easily be in the 7 figure range.
      Spec
      • 2 Years Ago
      "It's good to be careful, but an hydrogen re-fueling station explosion like this hasn't happened" Really? So I guess Autoblog.com lied to me when they said: "Report: NY Hydrogen station used by GM explodes, closes airport *UPDATE" http://www.autoblog.com/2010/08/27/report-ny-hydrogen-station-used-by-gm-explodes-closes-airport/ Maybe you should do a quick search before making such proclamations? . . . especially when it is your own site that proves them false. That is kinda embarrassing don't you think?
        JakeY
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Spec
        I was about to post that too. Since it has happened (and at an airport no less) the concerns of the SFO director is not unfounded.
          Spec
          • 2 Years Ago
          @JakeY
          I think there is some security camera footage of the explosion too. It was a relatively minor event luckily though . . . no big fireball, just a concussive pressure wave.
        Elmo Biggins
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Spec
        The key words here are "like this". Was the GM station as close to the tarmac and airplanes as this planned station? Did GM assume all liability? Who paid the cost for airport closing? The key differences may be location, size of the station, and just luck that it wasn't more disastrous.
        Dave R
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Spec
        Come on now - you don't expect Autoblog to do actual research before writing articles, do you? I mean, it's not like they wrote the article you linked to. Oh wait...
      Spec
      • 2 Years Ago
      The area also had a huge natural gas pipeline explosion just a few years back. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_San_Bruno_pipeline_explosion Flammable gas is dangerous and must be treated with great care.
        SVX pearlie
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Spec
        At one point, didn't a huge chunk of the city burn, primarily due to ruptured gas mains?
          Spec
          • 2 Years Ago
          @SVX pearlie
          See the Wiki. It was a big explosion and fire. I'm stuck in traffic these days because they are doing lots of pipeline upgrades to prevent another such incident. And I'm not point this out to bash hydrogen, I think natural gas, hydrogen, and gasoline stations should exist. They do need to be very careful though. And the same with EV batteries. Any time you put so much potential energy in a small space, it is dangerous.
          Joeviocoe
          • 2 Years Ago
          @SVX pearlie
          Yes, energy density is both desired and dangerous. If you want to contain enough energy to move 2 tons metal... in both city traffic and at highways speeds... for hundreds of miles... you need to make sure that this energy doesn't suddenly want to release itself in a fraction of a second.
          Letstakeawalk
          • 2 Years Ago
          @SVX pearlie
          Transformers have been known to explode from time to time, with devastating results. "Mylar balloons that got tangled in an overhead power cable in an East County neighborhood caused it to overload, break and fall onto the road Tuesday, setting fire to a row of parked cars and leaving thousands of homes and businesses temporarily without electrical service." http://www.cbs8.com/story/18768693/mylar-balloons-cause-transformer-explosion-in-el-cajon http://www.bestattorney.com/blog/personal-injury/three-workers-injured-in-orange-county-transformer-explosion I'm not trying to fan any flames here, guys. I'm in agreement with the general consensus that any form of stored energy has potential for damage when released in an uncontrolled fashion. Gasoline, Hydrogen, and pure Electricity must all be handled with care, or else somebody can get seriously hurt.
          SVX pearlie
          • 2 Years Ago
          @SVX pearlie
          I was thinking 1906.
          Dave D
          • 2 Years Ago
          @SVX pearlie
          Exactly Spec. Hell, I'm a huge EV proponent but even a battery is a small space with a lot of potential energy stored in it. Anytime that happens, you have the potential for bad things to happen. The alternative is to go back to walking, bikes or riding horses. Life is trade-offs folks.
      Elmo Biggins
      • 2 Years Ago
      Obviously the airport operators saw what we all saw with the Fukushima nuclear power plant hydrogen explosion: http://www.ndtv.com/video/player/news/japan-hydrogen-explosion-at-fukushima-nuclear-plant/193539 Doesn't take genius to see that if that was an airport, "significant loss of life" would be a severe understatement, as is already the case with the ongoing Fukushima nuclear disaster.
        Dan Frederiksen
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Elmo Biggins
        Elmo, stored hydrogen is not the same as a runaway nuclear power plant. that's a rather dishonest position to take. hydrogen propulsion has plenty of real problems. let's not lie about it which will only confuse the situation and delay resolution. hydrogen is super light so any leak will quickly be carried away completely harmlessly. the main problem is if you somehow leak it into a closed large room where it then can create a moderate explosion like it did in fukushima. but a few simple precautions in the engineering should preclude issues like that. hydrogen has plenty other problems that will ensure it will never catch on as a chemical fuel for vehicles. no need to make up new ones. it might work as a nuclear fuel but that's another matter entirely
        DaveMart
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Elmo Biggins
        You are supremely over-qualified as not being a genius.
      Levine Levine
      • 2 Years Ago
      As a product of inept American public school, the airport boss exposes his ignorance when he writes that a H2 explosion will cause a catastrophe. Stored H2 is much safer than stored gasoline. And H2's propensity to explode is much less than gasoline, Apparently, the dumb boss had read or watched the misleading media report of the Hindenburg.
        Spec
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Levine Levine
        Why don't you read some of the other posts before posting something so cocky and ignorant?
        2 Wheeled Menace
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Levine Levine
        It's so safe that they make bombs out of it!
          Joeviocoe
          • 2 Years Ago
          @2 Wheeled Menace
          Even more sciency... Burning and exploding are really the same thing physically... we just call it different things based on how fast the expansion is. Is the expansion fast enough to make a pressure (shock) wave that is audible or can be felt at a distance. So an "open" flame is just an expansion of gases too slow to be felt or heard. But try to contain those expanding gases, and the container will fail suddenly and thus expand itself faster than the original gas expansion.... creating the sound and shock wave (and shrapnel). H2 will always be stored under pressure, in a container. If any H2 starts to burn inside, the container will explode. Explosion either way.
          Joeviocoe
          • 2 Years Ago
          @2 Wheeled Menace
          "Hydrogen catches on fire, it doesn't really explode." What? Every fuel can potentially burn rather than explode. It depends on how much energy can be quicky dissipated. A H2 tank with an open nozzle with high enough flow rate, the flame won't be fast enough to enter the nozzle in the opposite direction of flow. Same for any fuel though. A high flow gasoline pump nozzle at full flow will actually not explode the pump, but the stream will burn. The problem is that when something leaks out of a place that is not intended to leak.. most likely, it won't be at a flow rate that is suitable for burning without letting the flame reach the source. ----------- When an H2 pressurized tank is punctured, it actually explodes just fine before any spark ignites it. But the explosion does tend to ignite the expanding gases anyway, creating an exploding fireball. And H2 is always going to be stored under intense pressure (if it weren't a few kg of H2 would be stored in a football stadium sized tank). So if something happens, yes, it will explode! Then, it will burn on the way, as it explodes.
          2 Wheeled Menace
          • 2 Years Ago
          @2 Wheeled Menace
          I'm kinda making a joke :) But the way H2 explodes is pretty bad anyway.
          Spec
          • 2 Years Ago
          @2 Wheeled Menace
          That's a bit of a cheap shot and you know it. Hydrogen bombs are based on nuclear fusion not chemical energy. But I assume you were making a joke. Man if we could do nuclear fusion in a moving vehicle, we'd really be living in the Jetson's age.
          Yespage
          • 2 Years Ago
          @2 Wheeled Menace
          Hydrogen catches on fire, it doesn't really explode.
        Joeviocoe
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Levine Levine
        "Stored H2 is much safer than stored gasoline. And H2's propensity to explode is much less than gasoline, " Your basis for this??
        Elmo Biggins
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Levine Levine
        What happens when it leaks a lil H2 in a confined space? It builds up and BOOOOM. A hydrogen explosion happened at Fukushima Reactor #3. Want this risk at your local airport? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pVp2NnY16g0
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