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H2 Refuel Competition Makes Progress

With fuel cell cars hitting the roads now, the need for places to fuel them is becoming a critical challenge.  That‘s why, in addition to supporting hydrogen station technology R&D, the Energy Department launched the H2 Refuel H-Prize in October 2014. This competition challenges American innovators to develop small-scale hydrogen generation and refueling systems. These systems could support the growing retail infrastructure by providing ways to fuel hydrogen vehicles at people’s homes, community centers, or businesses.

Two years later, we’re in the thick of the H2Refuel competition with the initiation of the testing phase. The Finalist team, SimpleFuel, has already produced and dispensed over 70 kg of hydrogen – enough fuel to drive a fuel cell car 4,200 miles. Using a data collection system that was installed prior to testing, experts at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory are monitoring and analyzing the data.

The H2 Refuel H-Prize was designed to move the state-of-the-art of small scale refueling technologies forward, so even though SimpleFuel is the only finalist, to win the $1 million prize they need to show that their system can meet a challenging set of targets, including requirements for things like safety and hydrogen purity. Then, during testing, the team must demonstrate their system can meet or beat the minimum targets for all the scoring criteria, which include a mix of technical metrics such as dispensing pressure, and availability. In addition, the system must be balanced with cost metrics to cover the cost to install the system and the ongoing costs to run it.

SimpleFuel is a team comprised of three companies: Ivys, PDC Machines, and McPhy North America. They built a system designed to produce 5 kg of hydrogen a day using electrolysis (electricity-driven water splitting) – enough to completely fill the tank of a standard fuel cell car and be able to go on a 300 mile trip. SimpleFuel noted that the H2 Refuel competition gave them extra incentive to address the tougher targets apparent in the automotive market.  For example, they designed the system to dispense the hydrogen to a tank at 700 bar pressure, equivalent to the pressure of five tons pressing down on one square inch. While some of applications for fuel cells, like forklifts, use lower pressures, automakers use 700 bar, which allows cars to store enough hydrogen for a driving range similar to today’s gasoline cars.

Safety is a key consideration of the H-Prize–to get to the finalist phase, the system plans were evaluated by a panel of safety experts.

In August, while the system was being constructed at the PDC Machines site, SimpleFuel team members hosted a fire safety training for over 50 first responders from three local companies. The training provided information on their system’s operation and safety architecture, along with hydrogen fire safety and emergency information for both hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and their fueling systems.

For more information on the H2 Refuel H-Prize Competition, visit The H-Prize is administered for the U.S. Department of Energy by the Hydrogen Education Foundation.