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Enabling the Use of Hydrogen as a Fuel (+$4 million)

photo of van at hydrogen fuel pump
NIST expertise can lead to a solid infrastructure for hydrogen vehicles.

Photo courtesy of Shell

Challenge

Hydrogen offers the possibility of lowering the impact of motor vehicles on the environment, and reducing our nation’s dependence on foreign oil.

While the burning of fossil fuels produces carbon dioxide and other emissions harmful to the environment, hydrogen fuel can be made from many energy sources, including renewables. Automakers are beginning to offer consumers early- version hydrogen-powered vehicles in certain areas of the United States.

Technical challenges need to be overcome to make hydrogen-powered vehicles more practical and economical. Hydrogen can embrittle metals and other container materials, is highly combustible, and requires storage containers larger than those for other fuels with equivalent energy. Moreover, the technical infrastructure must be developed to ensure safe production, storage, distribution, delivery, and equitable sale of hydrogen in the marketplace. Fuel cells for powering the vehicle must be improved to operate reliably for 5,000 hours under ordinary driving conditions in all regions of the country.

Proposed NIST Program

Expansion of research efforts at NIST is essential to achieving widespread use of hydrogen as a fuel. NIST has been a leading provider of data on the chemical and physical properties of hydrogen for more than 50 years. It has statutory responsibility under the Pipeline Safety Act of 2002 to develop research and standards for gas pipeline integrity, safety, and reliability. It is the lead U.S. agency for weights and measures of vehicle fuels, and the distribution and sale of hydrogen will require entirely new systems for ensuring equity in the marketplace.

NIST’s Center for Neutron Research is a premier facility for real-time, three-dimensional imaging of hydrogen in operating fuel cells. Using the unique resources developed at this NIST facility will help reduce technical barriers for efficient hydrogen production, storage, and use.

NIST expertise will be essential for making fuel cells less costly and more reliable.

Initiative outcomes will include, for example, development of physical measurement (reference) standards and calibration services for hydrogen flow rate and purity, research on appropriate fuel cell performance-based testing and rating procedures, development of fire hazard predictive models, and evaluation of fire suppression systems.

Expected Impacts

The NIST efforts will help realize the promise of making hydrogen-powered vehicles more economical by:

  • fostering private-sector innovation of more powerful, efficient, and durable fuel-cell designs;

  • ensuring accurate measures of hydrogen at points of sale;

  • producing consensus standards that support model building codes for such facilities as filling stations;

  • facilitating the adoption of hydrogen technologies in local communities; and

  • improving industrial safety standards for materials used in hydrogen systems (e.g., pipelines) developed in collaboration with consensus standards organizations.