Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV) were the belles of the ball at recent auto shows in Los Angeles and Tokyo, and researchers at the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) continue to play a key part in improving performance and durability while driving down costs.

Robot Tests Resiliency of Hydrogen Refueling

A bright yellow robot the size of a power forward bends and twists a hydrogen fueling hose hundreds of times a day, testing the durability of the hoses that someday soon will refuel America's hydrogen vehicles.

The robot is the colorful keystone of the hose reliability project at the Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF), the newest building at the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

With a long arm where its nose should be, the robot simulates the bending and twisting that humans do when they refill their gasoline engines today, and what they'll do in slightly different fashion in 2015 and beyond as car manufacturers bring vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells to market.

The robot has a twisty wrist that can turn the hose assembly deftly onto a pin to mate with the vehicle's exterior where the refueling will happen. The repetitive motion puts stress on the hose, so researchers can identify opportunities to increase the lifespan and reduce the cost of the hose assembly. The test also includes low-temperature and pressurized hydrogen gas conditions that will be part of the real-world refueling process.

NREL Senior Engineer Kevin Harrison notes that today's gas stations use the same hoses for thousands of fill-ups before they need to be replaced, and hydrogen fuel cell stations will need to reach that same level of reliability with their hose assembly. "This is a matter of adding value and working with industry to reduce the cost of the hose and the hydrogen infrastructure in general," Harrison said. "This facility [ESIF] allows industry to perform testing they can't do anywhere else in the world."