Accelerating technology for hydrogen safety codes and standards

August 1, 2022 8:00 am Published by

Award highlights research that advances the safe deployment of hydrogen technologies

Hypothetical layout of hydrogen vehicle refueling station with compact layout using revised setback distances for liquid hydrogen
Hypothetical layout of hydrogen vehicle refueling station with compact layout using revised setback distances for liquid hydrogen

Drivers might not always ponder the safety features that surround them as they cruise into their local gas station for a fill up. But for Sandia researcher Ethan Hecht, fueling stations’ design and safety has been the focus of several years of experiments and research. The goal? Help ensure hydrogen can safely and easily be used at fueling stations where hydrogen-powered cars or vehicles can refill much like their gasoline-powered counterparts. Specifically, Ethan’s work has focused on the National Fire Protection Association’s Hydrogen Technologies Code known as NFPA 2. Ethan and his collaborators have focused on prescribed setback distances for storing liquid hydrogen in bulk—distances which dictate how far storage tanks must be from other infrastructure. 

For the work, the Department of Energy Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Technologies Office presented Hecht with an award for technology acceleration during its Annual Merit Review in June.

As stated by the award, Hecht’s work to promote safety and minimize risk has enabled a decrease in hydrogen fueling stations’ footprint and cost. The work was noted for “facilitating the advancement of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies and laying the framework for the safe deployment of hydrogen technologies at scale.”

“Our hydrogen team focuses on the scientific basis for codes and standards. We use hydrogen flow models, experimental validation, and risk assessments to establish an understanding of hydrogen behavior. Ethan’s experiments are critical to this understanding.” said Kristin Hertz, Sandia’s Hydrogen Program Manager. “To enable this result, Ethan had to develop the instrumentation and diagnostics to remotely sense hydrogen concentrations in the lab as well as outdoors. His laser-based diagnostic is a first-of-its-kind capability.”

NFPA 2 is a fire code that provides requirements and guidelines for many types of hydrogen systems. Among other recommendations and requirements, the code dictates how fueling stations handle and store hydrogen. A related report Hecht contributed to puts it this way: “One key barrier to the deployment of fueling stations is the land area they require (i.e., their ’footprint’). Space is particularly a constraint in dense urban areas where hydrogen demand is high but space for fueling stations is limited.” Hecht’s experiments helped to characterize cryogenic hydrogen plumes and support revised safety standards and setback distances for liquid hydrogen storage.  

“It’s thrilling to see the work recognized, particularly because the improved understanding and modeling of hydrogen behavior has led to the first update to liquid hydrogen separation distances since their inception half a century ago,” Hecht said. “I want to thank the entire hydrogen safety community, who all are collaboratively working hard to enable this carbon-free energy carrier, particularly the team at Sandia, both current and past. This includes postdoctoral researchers Pratikash Panda and Bikram Roy Chowdhury, who were instrumental in developing the diagnostics we are using for liquid hydrogen experiments.”

Hydrogen fueling stations have the potential to support more widespread use of fuel cell electric vehicles. During the plenary session, U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm addressed the larger role of the research presented at the merit reviews: “Those of you who joined us for the 2021 review might recall us in fact saying that hydrogen has the potential to be perhaps the most important clean energy innovation in the world. And getting this right is going to mean unlocking a source of clean, dispatchable power and really a new method of energy storage.”

This work is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Technologies Office in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. The safety codes and standards subprogram has funded research by Sandia National Laboratories since 2003 to provide data and analyses to support science-based regulations, codes, and standards for hydrogen and fuel cell technologies.

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