Hydrogen’s Challenge for Mass Transit

The increase in legislation and funding to reduce greenhouse gases over the past two years is exciting, but not without its challenges. Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gases, and once governments began addressing the issue, a bewildering number of regulations, studies and grants began impacting transportation. In particular, California is making significant legislative changes that put regulations in place to reduce greenhouse gases. One approach California and other states are taking to reduce emissions is to develop the technology and infrastructure to support hydrogen as a fuel in the transportation sector. 

Why hydrogen?

It’s no surprise that increased use of hydrogen as a fuel source is a focus in reduction of greenhouse gases produced by mass transit. As the US. Department of Energy notes, “Hydrogen can be produced from diverse domestic resources with the potential for near-zero greenhouse gas emissions. Once produced, hydrogen generates electrical power in a fuel cell, emitting only water vapor and warm air. It holds promise for growth in both the stationary and transportation energy sectors.”

The good and not-so-good outlook

What will it take to make hydrogen a common fuel source for mass transit? The good news is that hydrogen is abundant; in fact, it’s the single most abundant element in the known universe.

The challenges lie in current approaches to production and storage of hydrogen. Though hydrogen is relatively “green,” most current production methods emit carbon dioxide.

Globally, almost 50% of the hydrogen produced for fuel is by Steam Methane Reforming, which reacts methane with steam at a high temperature and results in both hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Without carbon capture and storage, this method is still generating quantities of greenhouse gases that are unacceptable from an environmental perspective.

Cost is another barrier in fueling mass transit with hydrogen, as the cost to put hydrogen-powered vehicles in operation is generally high and the infrastructure to supply hydrogen will have to expand to meet demand. Safety issues are an additional concern.  

Safety concerns

The primary safety concern regarding the use of hydrogen as a fuel source is the flammability of the fuel. The higher pressure needed to fuel transportation makes hydrogen highly combustible when combined with oxygen. However, hydrogen tends to disperse quickly under normal pressure; as a result, hydrogen used in fuel transportation requires a higher pressure than does natural gas. Additionally, slowly escaping hydrogen can collect and form a flammable or even explosive mixture with air, making accumulation of gaseous hydrogen a point of concern in the enclosed passenger or storage compartments of any hydrogen-fueled vehicle. The design and construction of hydrogen systems must consider these properties to build safely.

Soteria’s role in ensuring project safety

If your hydrogen transit project needs safety support, Soteria Company is experienced in hydrogen safety and security issues for the transit industry. Our subject matter experts include hydrogen expert engineers and transportation safety and security professionals with years of experience on transit development projects for major transit agencies. We have experience overseeing project safety and certification on hydrogen fuel cells, fueling stations, alternative fuels, and alternative fuels conversion. Finally, we have the necessary experience with Federal Regulatory Agencies and Rail Transit Authorities to bring expertise in hydrogen safety and security issues.

We’re excited at hydrogen’s potential in the transportation industry, and ready for the safety challenges it poses. If you find yourself needing a partner in making hydrogen fuel safe for your project – whether in process design, equipment specification, project delivery, gas and liquid storage systems, commissioning, maintenance, sourcing, or safety analysis of hydrogen fuel cells and fueling facilities – give us a call. We’d be glad to team with you to provide the safety support your project needs