Battelle completing safety testing on hydrogen vehicle fueling systems

July 19, 2012
Tests performed by U.S. Department of Transportation, NHTSA reveal implications for global standards.

Battelle has for decades served as an integral resource for developing safety test methods for new vehicle technology. From alternative hydrocarbon and hydrogen fuels to battery hybrid vehicles and crash avoidance technology, engineers at the world's largest independent research and development organization are developing the test methods that ensure the safety of new technology on all manner of cars, SUVs, trucks and buses.

When new technologies are introduced in the marketplace, Battelle engineers help government and industry answer the question: "How do we know they are as safe as or safer than what we currently have?"

The latest safety test developments began in 2008, when the United States Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) came calling. Battelle engineers have been crushing and crashing hydrogen fuel containers and vehicles and have been igniting hydrogen in vehicles to more fully understand the safety of hydrogen fuel systems and how to verify their safety in a vehicle crash.  

By the end of this year, results are expected to confirm that hydrogen fuel containers are incredibly rugged and robust, capable of maintaining structural integrity even in severe crashes and capable of remaining leak tight. Testing was performed at Battelle's High Energy Research Laboratory in West Jefferson, as well as at vehicle crash facilities in Texas and Ohio.

In the other tests, Battelle engineers learned that even very small hydrogen leaks into the interior spaces of a vehicle, can be dangerous. "We found that common assumptions concerning small hydrogen leaks were not correct," said Denny Stephens, project manager at Battelle.

Tests suggest that hydrogen from very small leaks does not disperse evenly; allowing flammable concentrations to form when conventional wisdom suggests it is safe.  Fortunately, full scale crash tests of vehicles with hydrogen fuel systems demonstrated that they can remain leak tight. 

An additional significant finding was the indication that hydrogen permeation appears to increase flammability of interior vehicle fabrics, increasing propensity for secondary fire after hydrogen ignition.

Battelle test results suggest that, with appropriate safety testing, hydrogen vehicles can be as safe as conventional vehicles on the road today. 

The results of testing and analysis by Battelle engineers are being carefully analyzed by NHTSA and global safety regulators as they develop national and international standards for safety of this new and novel technology. 

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