By building and operating a new hydrogen fueling station in Morgantown, West Virginia University will demonstrate the efficiency of running automobiles on hydrogen fuel made from coal-powered electricity – a step that could help break America’s dependence on imported oil, use coal in an environmentally sound manner and keep the Mountain State at the forefront of another evolving energy industry.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) recently awarded a grant of $1.15 million to West Virginia University’s National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium (NAFTC) to develop and install equipment to produce and dispense hydrogen fuel along with a detailed testing and evaluation program.

“Hydrogen is being used as a fuel for passenger vehicles,” said Al Ebron, executive director of the NAFTC, which submitted the proposal for the project. “It can be used in fuel cells to power electric motors or used in internal combustion engines. Hydrogen is currently only available at a handful of locations, mostly in California, so making it available in West Virginia will put the Mountain State at the forefront of a relatively new industry.”

Curt M. Peterson, WVU vice president for Research and Economic Development, said the program is part of the WVU’s Advanced Energy Initiative – a campus-wide movement that focuses research efforts on addressing U.S. and West Virginia energy challenges. He said the program will educate target audiences, beginning first in West Virginia, about the safe use of hydrogen and the potential for fossil fuel-to-hydrogen programs of NETL.

“The effort is unique in that the station will use domestic electricity to produce hydrogen through an electrolysis process,” Ebron noted. “The facility will use grid power to produce the hydrogen from water by using an electric current to separate hydrogen and oxygen molecules – the two elements that make up water. The resulting hydrogen will be stored as a gas at a pressure of up to 5,000 pounds per square inch. It will then be piped to a pump that looks much like a standard gas pump.”

Located near the WVU Bicentennial House on Mileground Drive in Morgantown, the hydrogen fuel dispensing station will mirror the Yeager Airport Hydrogen Fueling Station in Charleston, W. Va., by using modular layout and an open architecture. The new station in Morgantown will create a northern terminus along Interstate 79 – a second link in the hydrogen corridor concept.

“This open architecture will support the evaluation of all the various components, devices, subsystems and systems for creating and dispensing hydrogen energy,” Ebron explained.

Funding for the one-year award began Oct. 1 and will continue through Sept. 30, 2011. An anticipated second phase of the project will provide follow-on funding to complete the station and purchase hydrogen test vehicles. The total amount of the project, including $288,500 in cost share, is $1.4 million.

Phase one funding for the project will enable:

  • Site survey and site preparation;
  • Purchase and installation of a building and weather cover to house the hydrogen fuel dispensing station; and
  • Procurement of an electrolyzer, buffer tank and chiller; a compressor; high-pressure storage composite tanks; electrical equipment and lighting; and grounding and lightning protection.
Yeager Airport Hydrogen Fueling Site

The hydrogen fueling station at WVU in Morgantown will mirror this pump at Yeager Airport in Charleston. Credit: NAFTC

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