Setting up a safe and convenient hydrogen infrastructure might not be as difficult as many thought, according to a study by Sandia National Laboratories. In fact, many existing gas stations offer a suitable footprint to store and dispense gaseous hydrogen for fuel cell vehicles. The Sandia study suggests that the current safety code that governs hydrogen fueling stations may be unnecessarily restrictive, and that a new science-based code could optimize hydrogen safety while allowing more places to provide hydrogen fuel.

Sandia suggests that the current safety code that governs hydrogen fueling stations may be unnecessarily restrictive.

Under the current code covering compressed hydrogen gas and cryogenic liquid hydrogen, called NFPA 2, none of the 70 gas stations covered by Sandia's study would be allowed to store or dispense hydrogen. This current code requires that hydrogen be stored 100 feet away from flammable and combustible liquids, as well as a certain distance from the street, public parking, and any on-site convenience store. This requires stations to have a prohibitively large footprint to sell hydrogen fuel alongside gasoline or diesel. Sandia says this code is based on an "expert opinion-based process," and was developed for an industrial setting. "The distances set forth in the code, therefore, were much larger than we now know they need to be," says Chris San Marchi, manager of Sandia's hydrogen and metallurgy group.

Sandia says that according to its studies of hydrogen behavior under various conditions, a new "science-based" code would mean a more viable infrastructure without jeopardizing safety. The group has extensively studied hydrogen gas and its ignition, as well as its effects on other materials. Sandia's suggested code requires that hydrogen fueling stations be at least as safe or safer than gasoline stations.

There would still be limitations, and many current stations still wouldn't be able to dispense hydrogen under the new code. "Gas station lot sizes vary greatly," says San Marchi, "and many smaller sites – particularly those in dense, urban areas – cannot be properly configured." Still about 20 percent of the stations Sandia surveyed would work, while another 24 percent would be eligible with property expansions.

Sandia now plans to perform further studies, and to look at the possibilities and risks surrounding liquid hydrogen. The denser cryogenic liquid takes up less space than gaseous hydrogen, and would allow stations to accommodate more fuel cell customers. Read more in the press release from Sandia below.
Show full PR text
More California gas stations can provide H2 than previously thought, Sandia study says

LIVERMORE, Calif. - A study by researchers at Sandia National Laboratories concludes that a number of existing gas stations in California can safely store and dispense hydrogen, suggesting a broader network of hydrogen fueling stations may be within reach.

The report examined 70 commercial gasoline stations in the state of California and sought to determine which, if any, could integrate hydrogen fuel, based on the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) hydrogen technologies code published in 2011.

The study determined that 14 of the 70 gas stations involved in the study could readily accept hydrogen fuel and that 17 more possibly could accept hydrogen with property expansions. Under previous NFPA code requirements from 2005, none of the existing gasoline stations could readily accept hydrogen.

The current code, known as NFPA 2, provides fundamental safeguards for the generation, installation, storage, piping, use and handling of hydrogen in compressed gas or cryogenic (low temperature) liquid form.

This work is aligned with Hydrogen Fueling Infrastructure Research and Station Technology (H2FIRST), a new project established by the Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

Science, risk-informed analysis can accelerate H2 station deployment

The development of meaningful, science-based fire codes and determinations such as those found in the report will help accelerate the deployment of hydrogen systems, said Daniel Dedrick, hydrogen program manager at Sandia. "This work shows that we can reduce uncertainty and avoid overly conservative restrictions to commercial hydrogen fuel installations by focusing on scientific, risk-informed approaches.

"It turns out that the number of fueling stations able to carry hydrogen can be quantified," Dedrick added. "We now know that we can build more hydrogen fueling stations if we examine the safety issues within a sound, technical framework that focuses on the real behaviors of hydrogen."

Sandia's hydrogen safety, codes and standards program is a diverse portfolio of activities funded by the Department of Energy's Fuel Cell Technologies Office to provide the technical basis for developing and revising safety codes and standards for hydrogen infrastructure, including the NFPA 2 code.

The study focuses on California, which has more hydrogen-fueling stations than any other state. A key factor in the codes that Sandia examined was the separation distances required for fueling infrastructure, including fuel dispensers, air intakes and tanks and storage equipment. The code defines required distances between such components and public streets, parking, on-site convenience stores and perimeter lines around the site.

All fueling facilities are susceptible to fire due to the presence of flammable liquids and gases, said Dedrick. According to the NFPA, more than 5,000 fires and explosions a year occurred at conventional gasoline stations from 2004-2008. "Whether you are filling your car with gasoline, compressed natural gas or hydrogen fuel, the fueling facility first of all must be designed and operated with safety in mind," he said.

"If you have a hydrogen leak at a fueling station, for example, and in the event that the hydrogen ignites, we need to understand how that flame is going to behave in order to maintain and control it within a typical fueling station," explained Chris San Marchi, manager of Sandia's hydrogen and metallurgy science group. A scientific understanding of how such flames and other potential hazards behave is necessary to properly determine and mitigate safety risks, he said.

"We're comfortable with the risks of natural gas in our homes and under our streets," San Marchi pointed out. "We want to be just as confident of the safety of hydrogen in our fuel tanks and on our street corners."

Sandia researchers at the Combustion Research Facility for years have studied and modeled the intricate workings of the combustion engine and, more recently, hydrogen behavior and its effects on materials and engine components, San Marchi said. The knowledge gained by Sandia's work on the physical behavior of hydrogen and risks associated with hydrogen fuels provided the scientific basis to revise the separation distances in the NFPA 2 code for hydrogen installations.

H2 fueling stations can be as safe as or safer than gasoline stations

Under the previous code, virtually no hydrogen fuel cell stations could be sited at existing stations. The reason, said San Marchi, is simple: Those codes were developed via an "expert opinion-based process" and not the risk-informed process developed by Sandia researchers and now used in the code. The previous code was developed for flammable gases in an industrial setting, which carries different risks compared to hydrogen fuel at a fueling station.

"The distances set forth in the code, therefore, were much larger than we now know they need to be," San Marchi said. The risk metric used to develop the new NFPA code, he added, was that the stations accepting hydrogen fuel needed to be proven as safe as or safer than gasoline-only stations.

Some gas stations still may not be able to accept hydrogen under the new code because gas station lot sizes vary greatly, and many smaller sites – particularly those in dense, urban areas – cannot be properly configured, he said.

"Certain smaller gas stations, especially those in cities, have unusual shapes that aren't going to accommodate the right separation distances," San Marchi said. For example, he said, the required distance between a high-pressure tank carrying hydrogen and the property boundary would be too great for a "skinny" station or a wedge-shaped lot. While larger lots naturally work better in the current environment, San Marchi said, there are opportunities to develop risk mitigations that could allow even wider deployment of hydrogen fueling stations.

Enhancing performance-based parts of hydrogen code

One of Sandia's next objectives is to work with all parties to look closer at the underutilized performance-based parts of the NFPA 2 code, rather than the prescriptive-based elements that focus on rigid distance requirements.

"While the prescriptive sections of the code are typically implemented, there are also sections of the code that allow for the use of more risk analysis to optimize the fueling facility," San Marchi said. If station developers and others take a more performance-based approach, he said, more existing fueling facilities will be able to integrate hydrogen systems and support the developing fuel-cell electric vehicle market.

Sandia is also in the process of developing a risk-informed approach for shortening the separation distances for liquid hydrogen storage at fueling stations, as current efforts only examined separation distances for gaseous hydrogen. Liquid hydrogen is attractive because it takes up less space than gaseous hydrogen and allows fueling stations to accommodate larger numbers of fuel-cell electric vehicles. However, there are additional issues associated with the low temperatures required for liquid systems installed on small properties.

"We need to do more experimental and modeling work to understand and evaluate the science and physics of liquid hydrogen," said San Marchi. "By evaluating the risks quantitatively, we believe we can shorten the separation distances required in the code for liquid hydrogen just as we did with gaseous hydrogen. That could then lead to even more fueling stations that can accept hydrogen and support the continued growth of the fuel-cell electric vehicle market."

Sandia National Laboratories is a multi-program laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corp., for the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies and economic competitiveness.


I'm reporting this comment as:

Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.


    • 1 Second Ago
  • 57 Comments
      Joeviocoe
      • 7 Months Ago
      @ DaveMart --"Plenty were saying that the infrastructure was impossible to build, and would be impossibly expensive." There is nothing in this report that shows how it will be somehow cheaper to build an H2 station... other than some hypothetical "stations can occupy less sq-ft because the standoffs are shorter" --"By mandate a third of Californian transport hydrogen comes from renewables," Where you living in California when they had the famous ZEV mandate? When the same Hydrogen lobby simply litigated their way out of that mandate. It is called "greenwashing". Hydrogen lobbyist hide behind this 1/3rd mandate because they know that it gives hydrogen a fresh coat of "green" right now, when fundraising is important... but is utterly meaningless when they try to scale up. They will just have that mandate reduced when they make the case for "cheaper hydrogen". We are already seeing the campaign in motion to bring the costs down. landfill gas does not scale... just as biodiesel did not, just as ethanol did not.
      Luciano
      • 7 Months Ago
      I hope people are awake enough to realize that hydrogen is just a way found by the oil industry to keep you slaved to yet another energy source supplied by them.
        DaveMart
        • 7 Months Ago
        @Luciano
        Good job the electricity supply industry is staffed by saints!
          PeterScott
          • 7 Months Ago
          @DaveMart
          Electricity pricing is regulated in many jursidicitons and doesn't skyrocket when someone in the middle east sneezes, and isn't driven up commodities speculators. It is also a lot easier to produce some electricity at home, than Gasoline.
          Spec
          • 7 Months Ago
          @DaveMart
          Yeah, you really missed on that one. Electricity is pretty much a regulated market everywhere. And if you don't like that then you can install your own solar PV system. And yes, solar PV still works even when it is cloudy.
          Joeviocoe
          • 7 Months Ago
          @DaveMart
          @ DaveMart Well, regular people have more of a choice to switch away from utility companies for their EV... while how many people fuel up using biofuels? Not many, because regular people don't have a choice about how infrastructure is set up. Now, I know you hate solar... but really, it is a viable option that tens of thousands of people are already using.
          Letstakeawalk
          • 7 Months Ago
          @DaveMart
          Our electric company *is* the natural gas company. I think they'll be happy either way, BEVs or FCVs.
      PeterScott
      • 7 Months Ago
      Not much of story here. Just a claim that they could build gas and Hyrdogn fueling equipment closer to each other. That certainly doesn't make building out Hydrogne infrastructure easy by any stretch of the imagination. I wonder what a combined Gas/Hydrogen inferno looks like?
        Spec
        • 7 Months Ago
        @PeterScott
        It might reduce the land & building costs a little. But I don't see this as any big breakthrough. The are just sharpening their pencils and lowering the safety margins.
        Joeviocoe
        • 7 Months Ago
        @PeterScott
        Basically.... Hydrogen has been on a 10 year Hype cycle of "Good News Everyone" http://www.memegasms.com/media/created/vhyfxm.jpg ... without anything that answers the Chicken/Egg paradox of the infrastructure. Autoblog Comments Enhancer (ACE) v0.9.8 - bit.ly/Autoblog_Comments
      JB
      • 7 Months Ago
      Yep, science vs engineering.
      danfred311
      • 7 Months Ago
      I find Sandia to be unintelligent.
      Jesse Gurr
      • 7 Months Ago
      "This current code requires that hydrogen be stored 100 feet away from flammable and combustible liquids, as well as a certain distance from the street, public parking, and any on-site convenience store." What about a private residence? Will this make it easier to make my own hydrogen at home? I can't wait for my electric AND gas bill to go up! :P
        Dave
        • 7 Months Ago
        @Jesse Gurr
        Nobody cares about home fueling. If they did, they'd have gasoline tanks in or next to their garages.
      goodoldgorr
      • 7 Months Ago
      I approve sandia, they seam competent. The success of hydrogen cars lie in a well spread hydrogen stations infrastructure and the hydrogen cars are sound. Please build a cheap hydrogen infrastructure now where the hydrogen is plentiful and completely renewable, it's possible and needed because we have just 53.2 years of oil left and bev cars need a 5x battery to catch-on and it will be impossible to get a 5x cheap reliable battery. The future is hydrogen cars but the hydrogen infrastructure is late, this is because big oil oppose it and they didn't invest a penny. Im sure that it is possible to sell a kilo of hydrogen at a price of 2$ a kilo, that's 4x cheaper then running on gasoline and it's 100x less polluting. It's the government and car companies that should build and develop this hydrogen infrastructure but they might be corrupted by big oil that make deposits in secret bank accounts in the name of some peoples that have patents in the hydrogen domain. Even today we don't know how much a kilo of hydrogen is selling at, this is a turn off and few people will buy hydrogen cars because they at least have to know what the hydrogen will cost and where to get it.
        PeterScott
        • 7 Months Ago
        @goodoldgorr
        "...this is because big oil oppose it..." You do see the "Shell" logos all over the filling station in that picture don't you? Hydrogen, is all about locking you into the same oligopoly, with the same players controling your fuel and playing the same games with pricing.
        brotherkenny4
        • 7 Months Ago
        @goodoldgorr
        Trying to make it seem as if big oil is against hydrogen is a bit of a stretch. Most here are not simple minded followers and thus implying that hydrogen is stiffled by big oil doesn't fly. They actually wouldn't mind hydrogen because it requires more processing from fossil fuels and thus is more profitable, not less profitable. Although, cost will not be competitive until solar and wind can be used to run small home water splitting and storage units. But then, no one is going to build and sell that, since it is no better than solar or wind for the current profit makers with political connections in Washington. Thus, for our safety, home production of hydrogen will be regulated to the point of noncompetitiveness. Much the same as grid connect solar is limited by the individual utility approval process and requirements. One way to prevent a free market is to claim a safety issue. Then at least the ignorant, which is most, follow along and feel protected from life like most people actually want anyway. On a side note, Sandia is the lab that does much of the battery safety testing, and as such has done more to convince people that batteries explode than any other source. Which is also similar to their nuclear (or nucular if you wish) program for which they would have you believe they stand between the terrorists and your ultimate distruction via terrorist bombs from stolen uranium. You know, when you can scare people into believing you are their protector, it's a pretty steady income.
          skierpage
          • 7 Months Ago
          @brotherkenny4
          "cost will not be competitive until solar and wind can be used to run small home water splitting and storage units" Why would anyone split water at home when they could use the electricity directly? Storing in batteries is cheaper, especially if you have a big battery in your BEV rolling around. Maybe some day survivalists will spend the entire summer generating and storing enough H2 to have fuel to get through the winter, but that's a big, huge maybe.
        Spec
        • 7 Months Ago
        @goodoldgorr
        "bev cars need a 5x battery to catch-on" No . . . they really don't. "The future is hydrogen cars but the hydrogen infrastructure is late, this is because big oil oppose it and they didn't invest a penny." This makes no sense whatsoever.
        Luciano
        • 7 Months Ago
        @goodoldgorr
        The reply was sponsored by your good friends at Exxon Mobil. Always looking after the consumer and the environment.
      FordGo
      • 7 Months Ago
      We are at the start of the Solar/Wind/EV Era, but, lets STOP and pick the Stupidest Solution we can find instead: http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/07/08/3457738/chevron-oil-shale-water/
        Spec
        • 7 Months Ago
        @FordGo
        Oil sands are hopeless. No one has figured out how to economically make them into liquid oil. Perhaps that will be a niche in the distant future to extract expensive oil for aviation when there is little else. But at the prices oil shale seems to need, EVs are far more economically rational.
      JakeY
      • 7 Months Ago
      "Plenty were saying that the infrastructure was impossible to build, and would be impossibly expensive." No one said it is "impossible", just ridiculously expensive to build. California is spending $200 million in grants (if you include cost share and the existing stations, total cost is closer to $500 million) to build enough hydrogen stations to support just ~10k cars. That's $20k in infrastructure grants per car and probably about $50k per car in total infrastructure spending. A fraction of that money can built a full DC charger highway network along all the popular routes in California (rather than the joke we have now outside of the private Tesla network) and that can serve way more than 10k cars. As for this article, it potentially makes more sites qualify to be a hydrogen station, but I don't think it really saves money (the article and press release does not mention any cost savings at all).
      Mike
      • 7 Months Ago
      "The denser cryogenic liquid takes up less space than gaseous hydrogen, and would allow stations to accommodate more fuel cell customers." How much more energy needs to be put into the hydrogen stream to make it a cryo liquid? Does this improve the overall economics of dispensing hydrogen as a fuel? Why not just put more and larger high pressure gas storage if you need to serve more FC customers? Is the one-time real estate cost really more than the ongoing extra energy cost?
        Joeviocoe
        • 7 Months Ago
        @Mike
        This is what happens when you ignore economics, in favor or one specific metric. You may save space with cryo, but you spend magnitudes more money.... which is why cryogenically liquified hydrogen is suitable for some applications which have very little constraint on funding
      FordGo
      • 8 Months Ago
      "Sandia suggests that the current safety code that governs hydrogen fueling stations may be unnecessarily restrictive." When the rich want to make money, your safety is incidental. Just like cigarettes and cancer, did the cigarette companies stop the Killing for Money. Just like Fracking: Your health, your water, your home, your property rights, that's all bull. Hell No.
        Spec
        • 7 Months Ago
        @FordGo
        Well . . . I wouldn't put them in the same class as tobacco merchants. These could be legit requirement changes. But I don't think they change the picture in any substantial way.
          Letstakeawalk
          • 7 Months Ago
          @Spec
          " But I don't think they change the picture in any substantial way." They identified 14 locations that could be hydrogen refueling stations out of 70 that were previously unsuitable. That's a pretty good increase in the number of potential stations.
          Joeviocoe
          • 7 Months Ago
          @Spec
          @ Letstakeawalk --"out of 70 that were previously unsuitable." What were their selection criteria? Where they looking for sites that were on the borderline?
      Joeviocoe
      • 7 Months Ago
      @ Dave --"Feel free to share your source for this information." Right there in the press release: "Certain smaller gas stations, especially those in cities, have unusual shapes that aren't going to accommodate the right separation distances," San Marchi said. So this whole thing is just to open up the market of awkwardly shaped gas stations. Really not a concern since there are countless 'large' abandoned gas stations that are not being used in California alone.... there is no shortage of zoned property that could be developed as an H2 station (if only someone would pay for it). Is that really going to be the excuse this year?? That there weren't any spacious lots available to put an H2 stations?? And that is why only a dozen have been build for the public in the last couple of decades. This is another BS excuse, and another opportunity to claim false progress... just like "two actors driving to the desert to drink FCV exhaust" (nevermind the H2 truck that got them to/from the desert).
    • Load More Comments