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Semi-truck carrying hydrogen explodes, fuel type still touted as safer than gasoline

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Market Trends
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The explosion of a semi-truck carrying hydrogen fuel last week in Ohio may lead collision repairers to fear fire risks associated with hydrogen-fueled vehicles in their shops but alternative energy media outlet, Hydrogen Fuel News, says hydrogen is no more dangerous than other fuels.

According to the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT), the hydrogen fuel explosion from the truck completely burned the traffic light at the crash site in Delaware County. Fox 28 reports that, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol, the truck — carrying 420 kilograms of hydrogen — was hit by a car in an intersection. The collision caused the tanks in the trailer to burst into flames then explode about 30 seconds after the crash, according to Fox 28.

Hydrogen Fuel News says “any fuel can be hazardous under the right circumstances, which is why all fuels should be handled with care, hydrogen included.”

Citing a 2003 white paper, “Twenty Hydrogen Myths,” by American physicist and Chairman/Chief Scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute Amory B. Lovins, Hydrogen Fuel News notes hydrogen burns quickly with a nonluminous flame that “cannot readily scorch a person at a distance as it emits only one-tenth the radiant heat of a hydrocarbon fire and burns 7% cooler than gasoline.”

“In fact, to speak further to hydrogen safety compared to gasoline safety, typically, victims of hydrogen fires are not typically burned unless they are actually in contact with the flame,” the trade publication wrote. “Furthermore, they’re also not choked by smoke.”

However, it should be noted that hydrogen gas is only visible with a thermal imaging camera so repairers should have one on hand if they’re working on hydrogen cell vehicles.

Lovins found that hydrogen fires result in vertical flame plumes and only increased interior temperature by one to two degrees Fahrenheit, while the outside temperature closest to the flame rose “by no more than a car experiences sitting in the sun.” In his tests, the cabin of the hydrogen vehicle wasn’t damaged compared to a gas-powered vehicle that was “gutted” and “would have killed anyone trapped inside.”

“The reality is that, although not an energy source in itself, hydrogen is an excellent energy carrier,” Hydrogen Fuel News wrote. “This makes it ideal in transporting useful energy to users, such as using H2 for a variety of industrial applications (e.g. material handling equipment), for delivering heat and power to commercial buildings and homes, and for providing power to vehicles (e.g. cars, buses, trucks, trains, marine vessels).

“Additionally, hydrogen can be stored in large amounts, it can be produced from almost any energy source, and its only byproducts when burned is water and heat. Since this is the case, if hydrogen happens to be produced via a renewable energy method (e.g. wind or solar that powers electrolysis), then from its production to its use, it is a total zero-emission fuel, commonly known as renewable or green hydrogen.”

The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) issued a report in 2020 that says as renewable electricity generation from wind and solar power has rapidly grown, work on developing alternative energy sources for residential, commercial, transportation, and industrial use is ramping up “to take advantage of their cost, security, and health benefits.”

In the transportation sector, the Compress Gas Association (CGA)’s focus is on hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs). Last year, CGA said, “More efficient than conventional internal combustion engine vehicles, FCEVs produce no tailpipe emissions other than water. The use of fuel cells in forklifts is already well-established, and development of passenger FCEVs is well underway. Initial efforts in medium and heavy-duty trucking hydrogen FCEVs adoption are on the rise.”

FCEVs use electricity to power an electric motor but, unlike other EVs, they produce electricity using a fuel cell powered by hydrogen, rather than drawing electricity from only a battery, according to the Department of Energy.

Toyota, Hyundai, and Stellantis have all ventured into the world of FCEVs with Toyota’s Mirai and Hyundai’s Nexo already on U.S. roads. Stellantis launched the Citroën Jumpy, Peugeot Expert, and Opel Vivaro FCEV vans in Europe in 2021.

Honda plans to release an FCEV next year based on the recently released CR-V hybrid. Its first FCEV, the Clarity, was discontinued in 2021 because of slow sales. The OEM has been conducting research and development of hydrogen technologies and FCEVs for more than 30 years and has worked with General Motors on a next-gen fuel cell system since 2013.


Featured image: Teka77/iStock

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