Highway construction workers, airport maintenance personnel, and film crews use small, portable lighting systems known as “mobile lighting.” Traditionally, mobile lighting units are powered by diesel-fueled generators that produce CO2, NOx (nitrogen oxides produced during combustion), and soot, putting them at odds with responsible environmental stewardship. Sandia, with help from Boeing, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), and others, is leading an effort to develop commercially viable, environmentally friendly, fuel-cell-powered mobile lighting systems.

The alpha fuel-cell-powered mobile lighting system on display at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials show.

Sandia is currently working on two separate lighting unit designs. The alpha unit was unveiled in October 2009 at the annual meeting of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and consists of

  • advanced power-saving light-emitting plasma™ technology (contributed by Luxim, Lumenworks, and Stray Light),
  • two high-pressure hydrogen tanks (purchased by Sandia),
  • a trailer with lighting mast (provided by Multiquip), and
  • a fuel cell (provided and installed by Altergy Systems).

Conventional mobile lighting systems powered by diesel-fueled generators, in addition to creating pollutants, are extremely noisy. Altergy’s fuel-cell systems, which run on pure hydrogen, are very quiet and produce zero emissions.

Boeing funded Sandia to develop a beta design, which is more sophisticated and technically ambitious than its alpha predecessor. The beta unit uses metal hydride storage tanks, designed by Ovonic Hydrogen Systems, which allow the units to run around 60 hours longer than the alpha design. Additionally, Sandians solved thermal-management issues surrounding metal hydride storage. The low-pressure metal hydride design mitigates safety concerns about having high gas pressure on the unit.

Read more about the ECIS, Boeing, Caltrans, and others partnership.