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SwRI establishes DOE-sponsored national testing facility

San Antonio, Texas -- August 13, 2002 -- The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has selected a team headed by Southwest Research Institute® (SwRI®) to develop and operate a national facility to test materials for their ability to store hydrogen.

Because of the burgeoning interest in hydrogen as a fuel source for fuel cells, the DOE established the national testing facility at SwRI to assess the performance of new hydrogen-storing materials and systems and to focus national research efforts on those that show the most promise.

The Institute team was awarded a four-year, $3 million grant from the Office of Renewable Energy to develop and operate a standard testing and certification program to assess the performance, safety, and life cycle of promising metal hydride, chemical hydride, and carbon-based hydrogen storage systems. Working with industry and the government, the Institute will develop an accepted set of performance and safety evaluation standards and then evaluate new materials according to those standards.

"This program is driven by the realization that hydrogen storage is critical to making fuel cells a reality," said Michael A. Miller, manager of the Materials Characterization and Development Section in SwRI's Mechanical and Materials Engineering Division. "Conventional methods of storing compressed hydrogen in cylinders for use with fuel cells raise several safety concerns, particularly in automotive applications."

To improve fuel cell technology, industry is developing alternative methods for hydrogen storage. These emerging methods include metal hydride, chemical hydride, and carbon-based storage technologies that adsorb and store hydrogen at low pressures. Several organizations have developed promising new low-pressure storage materials or techniques that can store more hydrogen than previously believed and can also release it at a controlled rate.

"The problem is that standard methods or protocols have not been developed to determine the hydrogen storage capacity and physical behavior of these materials," Miller explained. "The DOE is striving to develop a 'gold standard' in determining the storage capacity of these emergent materials. The Institute will test materials provided by industry and evaluate their effectiveness in storing hydrogen safely and efficiently."

The team consists of SwRI, Teledyne Energy Systems, Energy Conversion Devices Inc., and the National Hydrogen Association (NHA). As part of this program, the Institute will design laboratory equipment and instrumentation and will manage and operate the new hydrogen storage national testing facility to be located at SwRI's San Antonio location.

Teledyne Energy Systems will provide state-of-the-art hydrogen-generation equipment for use in refueling studies, and Energy Conversion Devices will provide materials and prototype hydrogen storage systems for benchmarking test procedures and establishing performance specifications. NHA will work closely with the Institute to draft testing standards and safety procedures.

Fuel cells powered by hydrogen stored in the new materials could be used in vehicles or isolated homes and also could power military ships, submarines, and mobile forces.

After the testing facility has been established, the Institute will routinely test materials and hydrogen-storage systems for government, industry, and academia.

For more information contact Robert Leibold, Communications Department, (210) 522-2258, Fax (210) 522-3547.

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