NREL Update: How Fast Can You Pump Hydrogen For An EV? NREL, Mercedes and GM Plan To Find Out


Pumping hydrogen for fuel cell-powered EVs is a bit trickier than plugging into an electric recharging station.

The pressure in HFEV tanks can get up into the 10,000 psi range, so hoses, fittings, gauges, and other fuel station gear all has to perform well under such pressure.

Even so, the optimal speed for pumping hydrogen for an HFEV at a station is not yet well defined at the moment, given the need for continuing station tank resupply, and for the fresh generation of hydrogen used to fill the tanks.

To help determine the optimal operational flow and requirements for HFEV stations, the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory, in Golden, CO, in a partnership with Mercedes-Benz and General Motors, is testing hydrogen filling at the lab’s Hydrogen Infrastructure Testing and Research Facility (HITRF), according to a facility spokesperson.

“It’s a cradle to grave investigation,” said the NREL guide who recently led a tour of the facility where new carbon fiber-reinforced tanks were on display.

The HITRF integrates commercial and test equipment in a system to mimic a hydrogen station, and it is the only facility in the national lab complex capable of fueling to the SAE J2601 standard — a fast-fueling protocol that dispenses 70 megapascals (MPa) of hydrogen at -40°C to the vehicle with a 3–5 minute fueling time, NREL’s program description says. A megapascal is about 145 psi. The SAE standard is “Fueling Protocols for Light Duty Gaseous Hydrogen Surface Vehicles.”

NREL and its partners are experimenting at the HITRF to help reduce the cost and installation time for a new hydrogen fueling station, to improve the stations’ availability and reliability, and to ensure the success of future hydrogen infrastructure deployment. One accident would attract far too much press attention.

The HITRF, with 340 kg of hydrogen storage on site, is the first facility of its kind in Colorado and serves as a proving ground for current generation component, system, and control testing, as well as perform testing for next-generation technology and controls.

NREL is also tapping federal funding for the HITRF, and helping US Department of Energy to test the hydrogen station equipment performance, or HySTEP devices as part of the US Department of Energy’s H2FIRST project.

The cost of each commercial hydrogen filling station could be high. One indicator of cost is that the Japanese government has invested $378 million to develop hydrogen infrastructure, of which about $1 million will be spent on each hydrogen station, according to a recent market analysis by Frost & Sullivan. “The cost of implementing a variable hydrogen pressure nozzle fuel station for storage and generation…has been the primary choking point in infrastructure expansion,” they say.

Other companies and entities involved in HFEV station development partnerships include the Hydrogen Energy Association, Seven-Eleven Japan Co. Ltd, HyFIVE, Linde, the California Fuel Cell Partnership, Ballard, and UK H2 Mobility, the analysts say.

The market for HFEVs, or fuel cell EVs, as they refer to them, is bright according to the analysts, who say about two million fuel cell vehicles are expected to be on the roads globally by 2030.

“The global market for FCEVs is estimated to reach about 583,360 units (per year) by 2030, with Asia Pacific (APAC) countries such as Japan and South Korea dominating the market with 218,651 and 80,440 units, respectively. FCEV markets in Europe and North America are projected to reach 117,000 units and 118,847 units, respectively, by 2030,” they say.

DOE targets having about 500,000 fuel cell cars on the road by 2030, Frost & Sullivan says.

Apart from its support of HFEV station development, DOE is supporting research that is working to reduce the price of an 80 kW fuel cell stack system to as little as $30. Along with reductions in the price of fuel cell stacks, efforts are also ongoing to lower the cost of hydrogen production to less than $2/kg, using the proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolysis method, the analysts point out.

Over the next decade, an estimated $10 billion will be invested globally in developing hydrogen technology and infrastructure by a group of private investor companies in conjunction with Toyota, Daimler and BMW, Frost & Sullivan reckon.

The Californian government has approved an expenditure of $20 million annually on hydrogen station deployments with private companies, which had already invested over $20 million at the end of 2017, the analysts say.

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