Hydrogen offers a wide variety of benefits to today's challenges for carbonless transportation (such as zero tail-pipe emissions, rapid refueling and longer driving range), but its widespread commercialization is still limited due to high costs. Cryogenic compression would help make carbonless transportation a practical reality.
That’s where Guillaume Petitpas of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's Computational Engineering Division comes in. In September 2016, he was selected by the Department of Energy to participate in the Lab-Corps in-depth entrepreneurial training at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. He was selected for his current research in developing a cost-effective and compact solution for storing hydrogen in vehicles. Cryogenic compression, or CcH2, has great potential to enable zero-emission transportation.
Instead of relying on expensive and maintenance-prone compressors and large buffer tanks, the CcH2 approach stores liquid hydrogen at the station and directly fills it to the vehicle through a liquid pump, which has a much smaller footprint.
Hydrogen is among the cleanest fuel options for transportation. “One of the main issues with H2 storage is compression: liquification is one good option, but liquid hydrogen is so cold that controlling boil-off (wasted fuel through heat transfer) is a serious concern when you have a car that is parked most of the time," Petitpas said.
About 15 years ago, LLNL developed the CcH2 technology to mitigate and virtually eliminate that boil-off issue. Petitpas’ team was selected for participation in the technology-transfer activities of Lab-Corps because CcH2 is one of the more mature and most advanced technologies at DOE, besides exhibiting the lowest ownership cost and highest energy density.
“Because LH2’s density is favorable for storage, CcH2 scales well for commercialization: CcH2-compatible refueling stations can easily handle 200 and more vehicles a day. No other storage technology is as cost effective,” Petitpas said.
The goal of Lab-Corps educational sessions is to help participating researchers gain a better understanding of product development in the real world by working directly with industry stakeholders and subject-matter experts. Petitpas partnered with Ryan Zarkesh of Sandia National Lab, who serves as the entrepreneurial lead, and Herie Soto of the Hydrogen Technology Division at Shell Oil Company and Tobias Brunner of Hynergy GmbH, the team’s industry mentors.
“My time with my Lab-Corps team opened my mind about issues like marketing, product viability, profitability, distribution and possible venues for this technology,” Petitpas said. “The Lab-Corps approach is to get participants to talk to as many people as possible, to learn as quickly as possible the current level of use and plans for development of our technology in industry; they call it ‘lean startup.’ Prior to attending the Lab-Corps session, I didn’t know that there were so many companies involved in hydrogen-fuel technology and their levels of participation.”
Petitpas and his team also explored issues facing technology implementation such as system integration of CcH2 with existing transportation technologies and developing a successful business model.
As a follow-on to his team’s Lab-Corps work to promote commercialization of CcH2 technology, Petitpas is applying to two demonstration projects to design, install and operate CcH2 prototype systems on board trucks (medium and heavy duty) to convince stakeholders of the benefits of the technology. “We believe that CcH2 technology can double a truck’s range without adding more space than what today’s technologies offer,” Petitpas said.