I’m really getting on a roll here, talking about various myths surrounding fuel cell vehicles, and I’m looking forward to hearing what our faithful readers of The Green Optimistic have to say about the technology.
Mention hydrogen, and one image that may come to mind is the infamous self-destruction of the airship Hindenburg, which was held aloft by sealed “balloons” of lightweight pure hydrogen gas. “Oh, the humanity!” Within the next few years, with the release of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, such as the Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell and Toyota FCV, are we just making it easier for Hindenburg-esque accidents on the highways and at fueling stations?
Recently, Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) studied the viability and safety of installing hydrogen refueling equipment at gas stations in California. Interestingly, SNL determined that hydrogen storage and dispensing equipment isn’t nearly as dangerous as previously assumed under old fire safety codes. A little less than half the gas stations in the US could easily integrate equipment to service fuel cell vehicles without introducing anything more dangerous than compressed natural gas refueling, which is also available at many gas stations.
On the other hand, what about the fuel cell vehicles themselves? Of course, a fuel cell vehicle would have to carry hydrogen fuel, and wouldn’t this effectively make it a hydrogen bomb? Well, no, not exactly. First, considering that hydrogen and gasoline have about the same energy per unit, we’re not talking explosions. Second, since hydrogen is buoyant, it tends to rise. This test setting a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle on fire and a conventional vehicle on fire is very telling…
Finally, hydrogen storage tanks, in spite of being under pressure, up to 875 atmospheres (12,859 psi), Toyota FCV’s composite fuel tanks are extremely safe, unlike the typical high-density polyethylene or steel fuel tank in a conventional vehicle. Toyota tested theirs against a .50 caliber sniper rifle.
Image © Olathe Toyota Parts Center, Forty Fires