Supporting UK Composites

R-TECH Wins Innovation Award for Hydrogen Fuel Cell Safety Sensor

Comcast Team

R-TECH Materials, one of the fastest growing polymer and composites laboratories in the UK, has won a JEC Asia Innovation award for its work on developing an early warning safety sensor for hydrogen fuel cell storage tanks in cars.

R-TECH won the prestigious award - which highlights innovative companies and processes - for the testing expertise it brought to an Innovate UK funded project called COMSAFE HV.  Working in conjunction with TWI, Pancom and Arcola Energy, R-TECH Materials used its testing expertise to develop an early warning system to alert drivers of hydrogen powered vehicles to any damage the cell might incur whilst in service.

Following the Paris climate agreement, which aims to reduce worldwide CO2 emissions by 15 giga tons by 2030, there is a push for more environmentally friendly transportation fuels. Hydrogen is one of the most promising alternative fuels whose only emission is water. Due to this, it is anticipated there will be approximately 1.5 million hydrogen fuel cell vehicles on the road by 2022.

Dr Tony Franks, director at R-TECH Materials, said:  “We are delighted to have won this award, which recognises our expertise in both testing and R&D.  Hydrogen is a very clean fuel and enables vehicles to run for long distances.  However, the public perceive it to be incredibly dangerous, thanks to Germany's infamous Hindenburg - the hydrogen-filled zeppelin airship that exploded over Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey in 1937.  Our early warning sensor system hopes to redress the balance by helping reassure drivers that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles can be safe as well as clean.”

Using acoustic emissions sensors and expertise provided by Pancom, R-TECH conducted a number of different static and dynamic mechanical tests on hydrogen fuel cells in order to develop a characteristic acoustic emissions ‘mother curve’ for a type III hydrogen fuel storage cylinder typically used in cars.

The failure modes and locations detected by acoustic emissions was then confirmed by X-Ray CT at TWI in Port Talbot, in order to confirm the validity of the results.
The different sounds the hydrogen fuel storage cylinder made depending on the level of damage were then put into a database to develop critical failure criteria to use as part of the early warning safety system.

The sensor works by monitoring the behaviour of the tank whilst it is being filled with hydrogen.  Using the data gathered from the characteristic mother curve, any damage the tank incurs whist in service will automatically be flagged up with a warning, which will transmit wirelessly to a receiver at the filling station. The warning will then notify the car manufacturer as to the level of damage within the tank.  If a critical amount of damage has occurred, the manufacturer will take action and ensure a replacement tank is fitted.

A prototype of the early warning safety sensor has now been produced and is currently undergoing field trials.

This is just one of several research and development projects that R-TECH Materials has delivered in recent years alongside their commercial testing and consultancy work. These have included developing testing techniques for reinforcing steel mechanical couplers and an ongoing Innovate UK project studying the high temperature degradation of austenitic stainless steels.



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