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Hydrogen Storage and Supply for Vehicular Fuel Systems

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

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Technology Marketing Summary

Various alternative-fuel systems have been proposed for passenger vehicles and light-duty trucks to reduce the worldwide reliance on fossils fuels and thus mitigate their polluting effects.  Replacing gasoline and other refined hydrocarbon fuels continues to present research and implementation challenges for the automotive industry. During the last decade, hydrogen fuel technology has emerged as the prime alternative that will finally drive automotive fuel systems into the new millennium.

Hydrogen is a superior option for many reasons: its high energy–density per unit of weight; its ready availability through the electrolysis of water; and its absence of polluting byproducts as fuel powers the vehicle.  Technological challenges, however, have hindered a speedy transition to the hydrogen-based system that offers so many benefits.  Now a robust solution to the problems of onboard hydrogen storage and utilization can speed the move from fossil fuels to a clean and attractive alternative in hydrogen. 


A uniquely skilled research team at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) examined hydrogen fuel system complications from diverse yet synergistic vantage points. Onboard hydrogen storage must be safe, reliable, conformable, lightweight, and comprehensively economic.  The team investigated such issues as the form within which the hydrogen is stored, the nature of the medium holding the hydrogen, and the operation of the container(s) holding the medium.

Typically, onboard hydrogen may be stored as a compressed gas (CH2) or as a cryogenic liquid (liquid H2 or LH2). Each form presents its own disadvantages. Compressed H2 high-pressure tanks (up to 10, 000 psi) cannot stem hydrogen’s characteristic and unacceptable high diffusion rate. The tanks must be extremely lightweight, yet unfailingly impact-and burst-resistant.  Meanwhile, LH2 exhibits an excessive boil-off rate that limits the dormancy of cryogenic-liquid tanks (the time period during which such tanks can remain stable without venting accrued pressure).

The LLNL solution offers a cryogenic-capable, high-pressure container that combines a pressure vessel with ultra-thin thermal barriers. For the first time, a hydrogen storage method, apparatus, and system having a fluid mixture is provided. Evaporative losses are reduced or eliminated, while safety, storage weight, vessel shape, vessel cost, and energy efficiency all improve. Further efficiencies are possible by nesting higher-pressure vessels inside box-shaped lower-pressure containers. The insulated cryogenic-capable pressure vessels can accept LH2, cryogenic compressed gas or compressed gas at ambient temperature.

This suite of inventions also stores hydrogen and its isotopes by absorption and/or mixture within a fluid medium, such as a fuel or energy-storage mixture. Specifically, this cryogenic hydrogen storage system contains a porous medium configured to adsorb hydrogen. Proprietary devices and methods also capture and recycle “escaped hydrogen” within the apparatus.

  • Fuel energy requirements are less than for conventional low-pressure cryogenic fuel tanks because a vehicle equipped with an insulated pressure vessel can use, but does not require, cryogenic fuel.
  • Compared to LH2 tanks, insulated pressure vessels reduce energy consumption more than 20%, by reducing evaporative losses and the need to liquefy hydrogen.
  • Compared to CH2 storage, insulated pressure vessels are 50% less expensive to manufacture because a smaller vessel size is required.
  • A hybrid or fuel-cell vehicle with a gasoline-equivalent fuel consumption of 2.94 l/100 km could be refueled with ambient-temperature compressed hydrogen at 25 MPa and still achieve a 200-km range. (This distance (or less) represents  85% of all vehicle trips in the US). LH2 would be employed only for long trips, limiting that cost to just those trips.
  • The typical driver would consume less energy, benefit from a lower fuel cost and still have three times the potential range of conventional ambient-temperature storage systems.
  •  Using CH2 for all trips shorter than 240 km reduces the total energy consumption of the vehicle by 16% compared to a vehicle fueled with LH2.
  • Evaporative losses are reduced when the vehicle is parked for a long period of time, and also when it is driven a short distance every day.
  • Insulated pressure vessels have been subjected to multiple DOT, ISO and SAE certification tests, always meeting or bettering the criteria for the different tests.
Applications and Industries
  • Personal automobiles and light-duty trucks directly benefit from this suite of inventions.
  • Forklifts and mining locomotives that operate in enclosed spaces, therefore requiring zero emissions.
  • Any propulsion systems that exploit hydrogen fuel (e.g., launch vehicles) will see immediate efficiencies if nested/insulated vessels can be adapted to the application.  
  • Power-generating sub-stations may be able to adapt this technology to augment conventional fossil fuels now used in commercial generators.
  • Cogeneration-equipped facilities including hospitals, schools, health clubs, and even prisons, may be able to loop hydrogen fuel systems to capture “waste” heat and redirect it for HVAC and hot-water needs.
More InformationDevelopment and Demonstration of Insulated Pressure Vessels for Vehicular Hydrogen Storage, S.M. Aceves and G.D. Berry, submitted to the 15th World Hydrogen Energy Conference, Yokohama, Japan, June 27 – July 2, 2004.

Watch a video of J. Raymond Smith presenting Cryotank for Storage of Hydrogen as a Vehicle Fuel.
Patents and Patent Applications
ID Number
Title and Abstract
Primary Lab
Application 20090283176
Cryogenic Capable High Pressure Containers for Compact Storage of Hydrogen Onboard Vehicles
A cryogenic-capable high pressure container which combines the use of cryogenic-capable high pressure vessels and ultra-thin thermal barrier(s) having a thickness less than about 5 mm because of the reduced thermal requirements of the container from flexible usage, for maximizing storage space. Additional increase in storage capacity may be obtained by using conformable pressure vessels having box-shaped configurations for further maximizing storage space and capacity. Further efficiencies may be achieved by nesting high pressure vessels inside box-shaped lower pressure vessels to utilize for storage the interstitial spaces form between them.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory 05/18/2009
Patent 6,708,502
Lightweight cryogenic-compatible pressure vessels for vehicular fuel storage
A lightweight, cryogenic-compatible pressure vessel for flexibly storing cryogenic liquid fuels or compressed gas fuels at cryogenic or ambient temperatures. The pressure vessel has an inner pressure container enclosing a fuel storage volume, an outer container surrounding the inner pressure container to form an evacuated space therebetween, and a thermal insulator surrounding the inner pressure container in the evacuated space to inhibit heat transfer. Additionally, vacuum loss from fuel permeation is substantially inhibited in the evacuated space by, for example, lining the container liner with a layer of fuel-impermeable material, capturing the permeated fuel in the evacuated space, or purging the permeated fuel from the evacuated space.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory 03/23/2004
Patent 7,191,602
Storage of H.sub.2 by absorption and/or mixture within a fluid medium
For the first time, a hydrogen storage method, apparatus and system having a fluid mixture is provided. At predetermined pressures and/or temperatures within a contained substantially fixed volume, the fluid mixture can store a high density of hydrogen molecules, wherein a predetermined phase of the fluid mixture is capable of being withdrawn from the substantially fixed volume for use as a vehicle fuel or energy storage having reduced and/or eliminated evaporative losses, especially where storage weight, vessel cost, vessel shape, safety, and energy efficiency are beneficial.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory 03/20/2007
Patent 7,036,324
Hydrogen storage and supply system
This invention provides for an apparatus and a method for operation of a cryogenic hydrogen storage system that contains a porous medium configured to adsorb hydrogen. The hydrogen storage and supply system includes a hydrogen source apparatus and a cryosorptive storage apparatus. Methods and devices that allow for an energy efficient filling of the cryosorptive apparatus from the hydrogen source apparatus are described. The cryosorptive hydrogen storage apparatus is filled with cold, pressurized hydrogen. During the course of filling, heat is generated in the cryosorptive storage device by the process of hydrogen adsorption on to the host medium. Methods and devices are provided for the removal the generated heat and the warm hydrogen. Further provided are devices and methods for the capture and recycle of escaped hydrogen within the hydrogen source apparatus.
Patent 8,545,657
Methods for tape fabrication of continuous filament composite parts and articles of manufacture thereof
A method for forming a composite structure according to one embodiment includes forming a first ply; and forming a second ply above the first ply. Forming each ply comprises: applying a bonding material to a tape, the tape comprising a fiber and a matrix, wherein the bonding material has a curing time of less than about 1 second; and adding the tape to a substrate for forming adjacent tape winds having about a constant distance therebetween. Additional systems, methods and articles of manufacture are also presented.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory 10/01/2013
Technology Status
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