Hydrogen Moves One Step Closer to the Gas Pump

The International Code Council (ICC) recently reviewed and acted on several measures concerning hydrogen storage that the National Hydrogen Association (NHA) says will bring a step closer to the fuel pump. The NHA says the ICC’s determinations will enhance both safety and efficiency at hydrogen fueling stations.

Washington D.C. – June 14, 2004 [SolarAccess.com] ICC building and fire safety code officials approved the updated codes at ICC’s Spring Meeting on May 20 in Overland Park, Kansas. The specific revisions affecting hydrogen storage were also supported by the U.S. Department of Energy and backed by industry representation. NHA lent support to the ICC’s Ad Hoc Committee (AHC) for Hydrogen Gas during development of the proposed revisions to ensure that the codes are safe and effective. “Having a practical and safe design for hydrogen fueling stations is pivotal to the eventual broad-scale consumer availability of hydrogen,” said Jeff Serfass, president of the NHA. “The ICC’s recognition of these hydrogen storage options is an important step in the transition to a hydrogen economy.” Among the newly approved code provisions affecting hydrogen in the ICC International Fire Code (IFC) were two new options for storing hydrogen at fueling stations – one as a liquid in an insulated container below ground and a second as a pressurized gas in tanks located on top of the station’s overhead canopy. The first option allows for the storage of liquid hydrogen in an insulated, underground tank . This storage method maximizes safety by protecting the hydrogen from direct contact with vehicles and minimizes exposure of the hydrogen tank to possible vandalism. The storage tank also allows for safe venting of hydrogen above the ground. Should the hydrogen leak, the non-toxic fuel vents in its natural gaseous form above station operations, rising directly into the air. The second hydrogen storage option allows for the optional placement of hydrogen generation, compression and storage equipment on top of refueling station overhead canopies. Overhead placement enhances safety because the equipment remains removed from possible vehicular impact. For this design option fire-protected canopy construction is specified in addition to remotely activated discharge devices that release the stored hydrogen gas safely into the air in the event of an emergency. The voting membership of the ICC also took up issues in Overland Park regarding a specific hydrogen storage technology: metal hydrides. Metal hydrides can often store hydrogen in greater volumes under low pressure and at ambient temperatures compared to gaseous or liquid storage. The newly proposed code language to the IFC now mirrors classifications by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the United Nations, which previously determined that metal hydride storage systems should be treated the same as gaseous hydrogen systems. Metal hydride storage systems have the potential to increase both efficiency and safety at fueling stations. These improvements to the IFC can greatly enhance the ability of urban fueling stations to offer hydrogen as a motor vehicle fuel. Current regulations require that certain distances must exist between hydrogen storage and buildings and equipment. Placement of hydrogen fuel atop the station canopy or below ground increases efficiency in fueling station design by reducing the total area or “footprint” legally required to add hydrogen fueling capability to an existing station. A review of these separation distances is now underway for consideration during the next cycle of code revisions. All building and fire safety inspectors who use ICC’s family of International Codes will be able to reference these provisions when the 2004 Supplement to the International Codes is published later this year.
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