Hydrogen Tanks at Fueling Station Explode

Posted: August 30, 2010

Oh, the humanity.

While hybrid and electric vehicles have been taking off, automakers have also been working on hydrogen-powered cars. Hydrogen is a plentiful resource and, in cars with hydrogen fuel cells, the only tail pipe emission is water vapor.  A major hurdle to bringing hydrogen cars to market, however, is convincing the buying public that they’re safe.  Clearing that hurdle may have just gotten a little harder.

The Rochester, New York Democrat and Chronicle writes, “Two hydrogen tanks at Monroe County's alternative fuel station on Scottsville Road exploded and caught fire this afternoon, sending black smoke high in the air. The blasts were heard as far away as Pittsford.” The explosions happened during a routine tank switch. “One of the hydrogen tanks exploded and caught fire about 12:50 p.m. Officials believe that there was some sort of arcing on the ground that spread the flames to the other tank, which also exploded.”  By 2:45, the flames were extinguished.

Some analysts think that the explosion could add fuel to the idea that hydrogen-powered cars are not safe. “Unfortunately, among the public at large, the first thing people think of when they hear the word “hydrogen” is the Hindenburg and explosions,” writes Kicking Tires. “While hydrogen in cars is no more flammable than gasoline, the perception could be even more of a reality,” thanks to the incident in Rochester.

General Motors’s fleet of hydrogen-powered cars use the station in Rochester to refuel. According to Autoblog, “GM spokesperson Scott Fossgard said that the company's fleet of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles have logged over 1.6 million miles with over 16,000 hydrogen fill ups by over 800 drivers. In all of that time, the company has never had an incident like the one in Rochester. While the GM fleet uses the filling station to top off its vehicles, this incident did not involve any of GM's vehicles, personnel or customers.”

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