Hydrogen & Alternative
Fuels Hazards
Fire Technology Services

image of a simulated automobile hydrogen leak ignited inside an engine compartment.

A simulated automobile hydrogen leak is ignited inside an engine compartment.


image: High-speed photography of a hydrogen cylinder explosion

High-speed photography of a
hydrogen cylinder explosion


image: Dynamics of Fire streaming video

View SwRI Fire Technology Department's Dynamics of Fire streaming video (Approx. 17 minutes. Requires Windows Media® Player 6.4+ for PC or 7.01+ for Macintosh)

The diversity and abundance of fire research programs by Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) put us in a unique position to provide the highest quality research associated with:

  • Alternative fuels
  • Gases
  • Vapors

SwRI employs an experienced, multifaceted professional staff as well as a support staff well- versed in:

  • Construction
  • Machining
  • Electronics
  • Gas analysis
  • Instrumentation

Fire Technology Resources

  • Large- and small-scale fire research facilities
  • Explosive and propellant test ranges
  • Vapor and dust explosion facilities
  • Computer modeling software

Standard Fire Testing Methods Development

SwRI assisted the Department of Transportation in the development of the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard FMVSS 304, Compressed Natural Gas Fuel Container Integrity. SwRI has continued to assist organizations in developing test methods and performing tests for commercial clients to standards including:

  • FMVSS 304, ISO 11439, NGV-2

    Compressed Natural Gas Fuel Container Evaluations
  • ISO 15869, HGV

    Gaseous Hydrogen and Hydrogen Blends (Compressed) Vehicle Fuel Tank Evaluations
  • Liquid hydrogen storage tank evaluations

  • ISO 16111

    Hydrogen Absorbed in Reversible Metal Hydride
  • 33CFR154, MSC/Circ.677, ASTM F 1273, UL 525, UL 1111

    Deflagration, Detonation, End of Line, and Tank Vent Flame Arrester Evaluations
  • GMN5354TP, E85 (Ethanol/Gasoline Blend)

    Fuel System Flame Arresting Capability

Explosion Evaluation and Mitigation

SwRI is experienced in assessing how miscellaneous assemblies or structures are affected by explosions and various fires such as:

  • Hydrogen
  • Ammonia
  • Natural gas
  • Propane
  • Flammable chemical release fires

Distribution and dispersion of flammable gases and vapors, time to ignition, heat release rate, blast pressures and damage, etc., can all be measured ranging from small-scale samples to entire mock-up structures. Similar research programs can be developed to analyze the hazards associated with the storage and release of small to large quantities of oxidizing chemicals. Ventilation, passive and active fire protection, and ignition prevention techniques can be developed and tested for their effectiveness on an extensive variety of hazards.

Fires, Blasts, and Explosions

image: Infrared view of underhood hydrogen dispersion ignition

Infrared view of underhood hydrogen dispersion ignition

SwRI has extensive facilities to simulate and measure small- to large-scale fires, blasts, and explosions. Storage facilities can contain thousands of gallons of various liquid fuels, vaporizers for the rapid release of liquefied gases, 2,000 gallons of propane storage, and a 50,000 standard cubic foot hydrogen trailer.

An explosion containment facility allows cost-effective performance of moderate-level explosion research programs. A remote test site allows the safe simulation of severe explosive events. Blasts can be measured and viewed with an extensive array of equipment:

  • High-speed blast pressures and sound levels up to 100 kHz
  • High-speed strain and acceleration up to 100 kHz
  • High-speed color video in excess of 3,000 frames per second
  • Infrared and ultraviolet imaging
  • Hundreds of temperature, pressure, radiation, and miscellaneous measurements at 10 Hz

Previous Alternative Fuel Hazard Research Programs

SwRI has performed extensive research programs and published research papers evaluating hazards associated with alternative fuels, including:

  • Induced Catastrophic Failure Analysis of a 5000 psig Type IV Hydrogen Cylinder (papers available through MVFRI and SAE)
  • Ignition of Underbody and Engine Compartment Hydrogen Releases (papers available through MVFRI and SAE)
  • Vehicle Bonfire to Induce Catastrophic Failure of an Installed Hydrogen Cylinder (papers available through MVFRI and SAE)
  • E-Diesel Fuel Tank Flame Arrester Evaluation [paper available through the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)]
  • Dozens of proprietary programs for commercial clients evaluating the fire hazards associated with alternative fuels in vehicles and structures

Explosion Mitigation

Once fire and explosion hazards have been adequately characterized, steps must be taken to reduce the likelihood of catastrophic events. The following services are available:

  • Active and passive fire protection material design and testing
  • Deflagration and detonation flame arrester evaluations
  • Explosion venting modeling and testing
  • Passive and reactive armor testing

Hazardous Material Storage and Transportation

SwRI performs testing in accordance with the United Nations’ Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods—Manual of Tests and Criteria. Testing includes:

  • Classification for explosives (Class 1)
  • Flammable liquids (Class 3)
  • Flammable/self-heating solids (Class 4)
  • Oxidizing substances (Class 5)
  • Ammonium nitrate fertilizers (Class 9)

Additional testing includes evaluations of:

  • Self-accelerating decomposition temperatures
  • Deflagration/detonation propagation
  • Deflagration/detonation inside packaging
  • Heating and explosions under confinement
  • Explosive power

Related Terminology

code compliance  •  engineering design  •  fire and explosion investigations  •  fire resistance  •  fire testing laboratory  •  material flammability  •  product development  •  risk and hazards  •  suppression  •  third party certification

Benefiting government, industry and the public through innovative science and technology
Southwest Research Institute® (SwRI®), headquartered in San Antonio, Texas, is a multidisciplinary, independent, nonprofit, applied engineering and physical sciences research and development organization with 10 technical divisions.
04/15/14