The Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has joined a consortium of automakers, energy companies, government laboratories, and others that aims to accelerate the rollout of an infrastructure for hydrogen-powered vehicles and related technologies. The development comes a few months before vehicles powered by fuel cells become available to the public for the first time.

The public-private partnership known as H2USA was launched last year by the Department of Energy and other stakeholders. The group focuses on furthering the infrastructure for hydrogen-powered vehicles such as those powered by fuel cells. So far more than two dozen entities have joined H2USA, including the American Gas Assn., Toyota Motor North America, Mercedes-Benz USA, and other national laboratories such as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Argonne and Sandia.

Fuel cells offer a way to power cars and trucks with dramatically reduced emissions, since the only byproducts are heat and water. The vehicles generate electricity via electrochemical reactions using hydrogen and air. Fuel cells are becoming more common in a variety of applications — as back-up energy sources in buildings and cell towers, in cars and buses, and in warehouses, where they are often used to power forklifts.

"Fuel cells powered by hydrogen offer an amazing opportunity — to power vehicles with virtually no emissions besides water vapor," said Jamie Holladay, PNNL's sector manager for fuel cell technologies. "It's an exciting time for this technology, and we're proud to be taking part in this group leading the development of this rapidly developing technology."

Participants in H2USA are working together to create ways to deliver affordable hydrogen fuel safely. Drivers of gasoline-powered vehicles can go just about anywhere, confident a filling station will be nearby. The pipelines necessary to move gasoline around the country have existed for decades; gas stations on street corners are a common landmark, and the trucks that haul gasoline into each station's tanks pass without notice.

But the infrastructure required to do the same with hydrogen is in the very early stages. There are just a handful of hydrogen filling stations available to the public nationwide. Besides filling stations, planners need to consider factors such as how to move the fuel from the central manufacturing facilities to those stations.

At the same time, several major automakers have plans to unveil fuel-cell-powered vehicles for sale in the next few years. Hyundai, Honda and Toyota are poised to sell fuel-cell cars within the next two years. The consortium is helping to create the infrastructure necessary so that drivers of those cars can be confident of a fill-up nearby.

PNNL's participation in the group builds on several contributions its scientists and engineers have already made to fuel cell technology. Recently PNNL engineers developed an app, Hydrogen Tools, which incorporates a variety of resources and web-based content to help those involved in designing, approving or using hydrogen fuel cell systems and facilities. The tool, developed with funding from DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, is available for free download through the Apple App Store.

Other PNNL engineers are managing a project testing the use of fuel cells to power refrigeration units in tractor trailers whose contents must be kept cool. That project is taking place with grocery chains in Texas, California and New York.

In addition, PNNL is a leader in hydrogen storage and hydrogen production technology development and is a member of the DOE Hydrogen Storage Engineering Center of Excellence. Several PNNL projects are aimed at inventing new ways of safely storing hydrogen on board a vehicle or lowering the cost of carbon fiber tanks, and its scientists have developed new catalysts for fuel cells and hydrogen production technologies.

PNNL is also a leader in hydrogen safety. PNNL manages the Hydrogen Safety Panel, which assists DOE with identifying safety-related technical data gaps, best practices, and lessons learned. The panel, established in 2003, helps integrate safety planning into projects to ensure that all projects address and incorporate best available safety practices. The panel has reviewed more than 200 projects covering the gambit of hydrogen technology development and deployment activities. Additional projects are focused on bringing safety knowledge and experience to the hydrogen community and other stakeholders, and providing training for first responders on hydrogen safety.

"Our participation in H2USA enables us to help set the direction of the development of the infrastructure for the nation," said Holladay. "PNNL has a strong core capability in materials development for hydrogen storage, catalysis for hydrogen production, hydrogen safety, and first responder training for hydrogen incidents. Our unique capabilities align well with H2USA's needs."

Tags: Energy, Environment, Emissions, Fuel Cells, Green Energy

Interdisciplinary teams at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory address many of America's most pressing issues in energy, the environment and national security through advances in basic and applied science. Founded in 1965, PNNL employs 4,300 staff and has an annual budget of about $950 million. It is managed by Battelle for the U.S. Department of Energy. For more information, visit the PNNL News Center, or follow PNNL on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter.