Sandia Gets HYPER About Hydrogen Research
August 14, 2007
A global effort is underway to make hydrogen one of the dominant carriers of energy. Researchers involved are optimistic that the so-called “hydrogen economy” will become a reality soon. That optimism is driven by a feeling that developing alternative sources of energy is no longer a choice but a necessity.
Sandia is playing a large role in this effort, thanks to its codes and standards work for the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE’s) FreedomCAR and Fuels presidential initiative. This DOE domestic effort has now gone global: Late last year Sandia joined a European consortium called “HYPER,” for HYdrogen PERmitting.
Hydrogen Program Manager Jay Keller says this international research effort is essential. “We’re all working toward a similar goal — making hydrogen a dominant energy carrier sooner rather than later,” he says. “We’re better off all playing together than alone.”
HYPER has 15 partners from France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States. HYPER’s research focus is on small (10 kilowatts), stationary hydrogen fuel cells that could be used to provide auxiliary power in homes. Even though this differs from the FreedomCAR focus on transportation, there is enough overlap for a fruitful collaboration, says Jay.
Sandia is addressing the science and technology that goes into understanding unintended releases of hydrogen. This work will ultimately aid in developing codes and standards that will suggest how to design and operate a hydrogen fueling station in the safest possible manner.
This year DOE has asked Sandia to focus specifically on barriers and how they might impact safety. Several HYPER partners are collaborating with Sandia on this barrier work.
“Everyone needs to consider barriers as a mitigation strategy,” says Bill Houf, a principal investigator for Sandia’s work with HYPER. “The question we are trying to answer is does a barrier mitigate the effects of an unintended release, or does it create conditions that exacerbate the release?”
An unintended release of hydrogen at 2,500 psi could result in a 12-foot-long jet flame. A barrier would block that flame but could cause unintended detrimental effects, such as a significant and possibly damaging overpressure.
The overpressure, explains Bill, could induce a more dangerous situation than a jet flame. If the overpressure gets high enough it could break glass, damage walls, or eardrums.
Modeling is key to hydrogen research, so a lot of the experimental results will go towards validating models. Modeling is also used to refine tests to maximize use of money and resources.
“We can’t test everything. Most of our tests are done for supply pressures of 2,500 to 6,500 psi, but vehicles may be fueled at 10,000 psi,” says Bill.
Sandia is involved in two projects for HYPER, one on modeling and the other on barrier interaction experiments. At a HYPER meeting in Pisa, Italy, in May, Sandia’s work plan was touted as an example to be emulated by other members of the consortium.
Along with Sandia, the University of Ulster, University of Pisa, the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Germany’s Forschungszentrum (FZK), and Russia’s Kurchatov Institute are collaborating on the two projects. Each partner brings its own strengths to the project.
For example, Jay points out that FZK’s modeling capability will be used to complement Sandia’s efforts in understanding the overpressure issue. HSE has larger test facilities that will allow consequence and behavior work on a massive scale — what Jay calls the “big bang.” Kurchatov Institute has enclosed facilities capable of testing explosive mixtures, something that Sandia does not have access to in the United States.
Some of the international partners have an advantage in terms of government support and funding. For example, Germany has enjoyed strong funding for hydrogen research for much longer than the United States.
“Europe has been pretty aggressive at pushing hydrogen into their infrastructure,” says Jay. “This partnership helps us leverage international activities in science. The energy problem is too important to work in isolation.”
Story courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories.