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Journal Article  January 1, 2012

Releases from Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Vehicles in Tunnels



Houf, William G., Groethe, Greg h. Evans, Erik Merilo, Mark Groethe, and Scott C. James, “Releases from hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles in tunnels,”  Fuel and Energy Abstracts, 01/2012; DOI:10.1016/j.ijhydene.2011.09.110.


An important issue concerning the safe use of hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicles is the possibility of accidents inside tunnels resulting in the release of hydrogen. To investigate the potential consequences, a combined experimental and modeling study has been performed to characterize releases from a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle inside a tunnel. In the scenario studied, all three of the fuel-cell vehicle’s onboard hydrogen tanks were simultaneously released through three thermal pressure relief devices (TPRDs) toward the road surface. Computation fluid dynamics (CFD) simulations were used to model the release of hydrogen from the fuel-cell vehicle and to study the behavior of the ignitable hydrogen cloud inside the tunnel. Deflagration overpressure simulations of the hydrogen cloud within the tunnel were also performed for different ignition delay times and ignition locations. To provide model validation data for these simulations, experiments were performed in a scaled tunnel test facility at the SRI Corral Hollow Experiment Site (CHES). The scaled tunnel tests were designed to resemble the full-scale tunnel simulations using Froude scaling. The scale factor, based on the square route of the ratio of the SRI tunnel area to the full-scale tunnel area was 1/2.53. The same computational models used in the full-scale tunnel simulations were applied to these scaled tunnel tests to validate the modeling approach.


  • The release scenario was thermal activation of the pressure release devices on the vehicle’s tanks.
  • Simulations were used to model the release of hydrogen from the fuel-cell vehicle.
  • The simulations were validated by performing tests in a scaled tunnel experiment.
  • Risk analysis indicates that the level of potential risk from such accidents is small.

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