Hydrogen (H2) is a simple molecule that requires complex engineering to harness its power as a fuel source in rockets, automotive transportation and fuel cell energy storage. Government and industry are interested in developing advanced hydrogen technology through hydrogen energy research for use in industrial applications and as an alternative to fossil fuels. Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) develops applied R&D solutions with hydrogen technology used in rockets, alternative combustion, fuel cells, energy storage, and industrial processing plants.
Hydrogen Energy Research Areas
SwRI’s hydrogen energy research enables diverse clients in the hydrogen economy to draw upon deep expertise for a variety of technical challenges. We are researching novel ways to use hydrogen as a combustion medium in addition to developing materials, components, and infrastructure solutions for the hydrogen fuel cell supply chain and on-board storage solutions.
Industrial Hydrogen Compressor R&D
Compressed hydrogen is used to remove contaminants when refining oil into gasoline and diesel. SwRI provides pulsation and vibration analysis for refinery hydrogen compressors. Additionally, chemical process plants produce hydrogen waste, which is often burned or “flared off.” SwRI is developing technology to recover hydrogen waste to power turbine engines for improved energy efficiency.
Hydrogen can be used as a medium for energy storage that uses combustion in gas turbine engines, but power cycle efficiency must improve prior to widespread adoption. SwRI’s combustor test facility evaluates alternative fuel mixtures of methane, hydrogen, carbon dioxide and other fuel supplies used in gas turbines and novel combustors. Services span combustion testing, computational modeling, preliminary design, and combustor design. Our work includes research funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Office in addition to commercially funded projects.
Hydrogen Gas Compressor Research
The addition of electric fuel cell vehicles on roadways requires fuel suppliers to develop hydrogen infrastructure, such as compressed hydrogen gas storage. SwRI provides advanced compressors and point-of-sale systems in addition to design, engineering and troubleshooting services to increase the reliability of compressors used in hydrogen fueling stations and industrial settings. Our work also includes research funded by the U.S. Department of Energy to design, build and test a Linear Motor Reciprocating Compressor (LMRC).
Hydrogen Fuel Cell Research & Testing
When compressed, hydrogen packs an energy density higher than traditional fuels used in internal combustion. Hydrogen fuel cells convert chemical energy to mechanical energy, a process known as electrochemical conversion, when hydrogen reacts with oxygen, generating electricity that powers electric motors. SwRI’s hydrogen energy research for fuel cells covers disciplines spanning mechanical and materials engineering and more.
Hydrogen Component Testing
SwRI’s Flow Component Testing Facilities (FCTF) expanded safety and performance testing capabilities include hydrogen valve testing and leak detection technology testing for H2 blended natural gas pipelines. SwRI has performed testing to evaluate the pressure integrity of flow components at pressures up to 15,000 psig with hydrogen gas.
The facility can simulate leaks of natural gas/hydrogen blends over a range of flow rates consistent with typical field conditions. The test facility can also simulate blended gas leaks for various hydrogen concentrations including 100% methane and 100% hydrogen releases. Custom modifications can also be made to meet clients’ specific needs.
Given hydrogen's advancement as a propitious energy carrier, SwRI aims to advance the different methods of sustainable hydrogen production, to decrease its cost per kilogram, while limiting the associated greenhouse gas emissions and energy use. Our experience and expertise include producing hydrogen from both fossil fuels and renewable sources. Services offered include hydrocarbon reforming, hydrocarbon pyrolysis and decarbonization, biomass and plastics gasification and pyrolysis, photolysis and fermentative hydrogen production. SwRI is adept at Front-End Engineering Design (FEED), fabrication and buildup of pilot plants for hydrogen production and associated carbon capture, utilization and storage.
Hydrogen Flow Meter Testing
The SwRI Fluids Engineering department’s world-class Metering Research Facility (MRF) has helped develop technologies and standards for natural gas flow meters used around the world.
The MRF has the capability to simulate real field operational conditions for meter development, calibration and testing. The facility capabilities have been expanded to perform blowdown testing on flow meters designed for hydrogen or hydrogen and natural gas blends. Custom modifications and test setups can also be made to meet clients’ specific needs.
Hydrogen Storage Materials
In nature, the hydrogen atom is always bonded to other atoms. Consider how water, or H2O, has two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen. When bonded to another hydrogen atom to form the hydrogen molecule (H2), the most common form of hydrogen, it can be isolated and compressed or transformed into a liquid state and stored as molecular hydrogen for later use as a fuel source.
Molecular hydrogen interacts weakly with other materials, which limits the types of materials that can be used as solid “sponges” to store it at room temperature. Conversely, the strong interactions of hydrogen atoms with certain types of storage materials, such as metallic hydrides, form chemical bones in a process called chemisorption. Such materials require a considerable amount of thermal energy to release it as molecular hydrogen to use as a fuel.
SwRI is researching a broad range of materials with unique structural motifs that can store hydrogen reversibly under practical conditions for use in fuel cell-powered vehicles as well as stationary storage applications.
SwRI’s Sorption Science Laboratory (S3L) is a state-of-the-art facility specifically designed to evaluate the intrinsic properties of potential storage materials. It also evaluates the effects of hydrogen on materials to address critical needs of the emerging infrastructure for the hydrogen economy, while continuing to support similar needs in the oil and gas economy.
Hydrogen Fuel Safety Standards
Visit Hydrogen & Alternative Fuels Hazards to learn about safety standards, including:
- ISO 15869 – Gaseous hydrogen and hydrogen blends (compressed) vehicle fuel tank evaluations for compressed hydrogen gas tanks
- ISO 16111 – Hydrogen absorbed in reversible metal hydride
Automotive Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Applications
- Hydrogen & Alternative Fuels Hazards
- Advanced Power Systems
- Thermal, Mechanical & Chemical Energy Storage
- Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) Energy Storage
- Decarbonization Technology Services
- Centrifugal Compressors & Gas Turbine Services
- Reciprocating Compressors & Gas Turbine Services
- Fluids Engineering