Hydrogen Storage Engineering

Sandia/GM Hydrogen Storage Project

Sandia and General Motors have successfully designed, fabricated, and experimentally operated a vehicle-scale hydrogen storage system using sodium alanate, a complex metal hydride. During the five-year project, the team designed the demonstration system to tackle the primary barriers associated with storage and delivery of hydrogen such as mass, volume, efficiency, and cost.

Complex metal hydrides such as sodium alanates provide an opportunity to improve hydrogen storage for automotive applications due to their high hydrogen content. However, a system based on complex hydrides has unique challenges not addressed by current engineering technology. New solutions were necessary to manage the unique challenges these advanced systems present: reaction enthalpy heat exchange, inadequate intrinsic kinetics, and poor thermal properties. Our system directly addresses those issues in very encouraging ways. Because many solid-state storage materials share these same challenges, the technology developed during this program is broadly applicable to a wide range of both existing and future materials developed for storing hydrogen.

The Sandia/GM system is the most advanced hydrogen storage system ever designed for automotive use. It is the first tank of this scale that uses complex hydrides and was designed to meet vehicle-driven performance metrics. The system’s capability to meet the rapidly changing hydrogen demand of a mid-sized automobile was demonstrated in the lab in order to fully characterize performance.

Hydrogen-Powered Locomotive

Hydrogen Powered Locomotive

Hydrogen Powered Locomotive

Nearly all mines employ diesel-powered or battery-powered mining and hauling equipment. To ensure worker safety, diesel exhaust must be removed from the underground workspaces, which requires expensive ventilation shafts and air-moving equipment. Batteries require significant charging time, which removes those vehicles from service.

A review of the economics predicts cost savings as well as safety and productivity benefits from using hydride bed/fuel cell power plants for mining and tunneling locomotives. Replacing diesel-powered equipment with hydrogen-powered vehicles would save an estimated 30 to 40 percent in ventilation costs, easily offsetting the cost of the fuel cells.

In a project funded largely by DOE’s Hydrogen Program, Sandia and the Fuel Cell Propulsion Institute developed the first hydrogen-powered locomotive. The project designed and integrated a locomotive power plant, including heating, cooling, and air supply systems; a hydrogen storage unit using metal hydride; and a control system to monitor and control overall operations via a touch-screen panel. The power plant was retrofitted onto a commercial underground mining locomotive and operated successfully.

Publications and Reports

Contact: Terry Johnson, (925) 294-2512, tajohns@sandia.gov