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Sandia study finds more California gas stations could provide H2 than previously thought; NFPA 2 code

A study by researchers at Sandia National Laboratories concludes that a number of existing gas stations in California can safely store and dispense hydrogen, suggesting a broader network of hydrogen fueling stations may be within reach.

The report examined 70 commercial gasoline stations in the state to determine which, if any, could integrate hydrogen fuel, based on the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) hydrogen technologies code published in 2011. The study determined that 14 of the 70 gas stations—i.e., 20%—involved in the study could readily accept hydrogen fuel and that 17 more possibly could accept hydrogen with property expansions. Under previous NFPA code requirements from 2005, none of the existing gasoline stations could readily accept hydrogen.

The current code, known as NFPA 2, provides fundamental safeguards for the generation, installation, storage, piping, use and handling of hydrogen in compressed gas or cryogenic (low temperature) liquid form.

“Whether you are filling your car with gasoline, compressed natural gas or hydrogen fuel, the fueling facility first of all must be designed and operated with safety in mind.”
—Daniel Dedrick, hydrogen program manager at Sandia

To benchmark the number of sites that readily accept hydrogen, the Sandia team focused on geographic areas where hydrogen-fueling sites are being actively developed. There are 9,710 retail gasoline stations in California. In a recent draft Public Opportunity Notice (PON), the California Energy Commission (CEC) identified primary and secondary priority locations for fueling stations. Of the 9,710 total sites in California, there are 343 designated retail gasoline stations in these primary and secondary priority locations.

The Sandia team took a sample of the locations and evaluated each of these sites for readiness to integrate hydrogen. The assessment is based solely on compliance to the prescriptive requirements of the applicable hydrogen code—i.e., NFPA 2.

A key factor in the codes that Sandia examined was the separation distances required for fueling infrastructure, including fuel dispensers, air intakes and tanks and storage equipment. The code defines required distances between such components and public streets, parking, on-site convenience stores and perimeter lines around the site.

Under the previous code, virtually no hydrogen fuel cell stations could be sited at existing stations. The reason, said Chris San Marchi, manager of Sandia’s hydrogen and metallurgy science group, is simple: Those codes were developed via an “expert opinion-based process” and not the risk-informed process developed by Sandia researchers and now used in the code. The previous code was developed for flammable gases in an industrial setting, which carries different risks compared to hydrogen fuel at a fueling station.The distances set forth in the code, therefore, were much larger than they need to be, San Marchi said.

The risk metric used to develop the new NFPA code, he added, was that the stations accepting hydrogen fuel needed to be proven as safe as or safer than gasoline-only stations.

GH2 reference station: 100 kg GH2 storage, 3 bank cascade and tube trailer with 1 compressor and associated pre-cooler equipment (70 kg/day capacity, 1 dual hose dispenser); 18,000 ft2 (672 m2) station site with 5,500 ft2 (11 m2) of open space. Click to enlarge.   LH2 reference station: 3500-15,000 gallons (13,250-56,780 liters) (910-1300 kg) LH2 storage (200-300 kg/day capacity, 1-2 dual hose dispensers); 18,000 ft2 (1,672 m2) station site with 15,000 ft2 (1,394 m2) of open space. Click to enlarge.

All fueling facilities are susceptible to fire due to the presence of flammable liquids and gases; according to the NFPA, more than 5,000 fires and explosions a year occurred at conventional gasoline stations from 2004-2008.

If you have a hydrogen leak at a fueling station, for example, and in the event that the hydrogen ignites, we need to understand how that flame is going to behave in order to maintain and control it within a typical fueling station.

—Chris San Marchi

A scientific understanding of how such flames and other potential hazards behave is necessary to properly determine and mitigate safety risks, San Marchi said.

Sandia researchers at the Combustion Research Facility for years have studied and modeled the intricate workings of the combustion engine and, more recently, hydrogen behavior and its effects on materials and engine components, San Marchi said. The knowledge gained by Sandia’s work on the physical behavior of hydrogen and risks associated with hydrogen fuels provided the scientific basis to revise the separation distances in the NFPA 2 code for hydrogen installations.

Some gas stations still may not be able to accept hydrogen under the new code because gas station lot sizes vary greatly, and many smaller sites—particularly those in dense, urban areas—cannot be properly configured, he said. For example, he said, the required distance between a high-pressure tank carrying hydrogen and the property boundary would be too great for a “skinny” station or a wedge-shaped lot. While larger lots naturally work better in the current environment, San Marchi said, there are opportunities to develop risk mitigations that could allow even wider deployment of hydrogen fueling stations.

One of Sandia’s next objectives is to work with all parties to look closer at the underutilized performance-based parts of the NFPA 2 code, rather than the prescriptive-based elements that focus on rigid distance requirements.

While the prescriptive sections of the code are typically implemented, there are also sections of the code that allow for the use of more risk analysis to optimize the fueling facility, San Marchi said. If station developers and others take a more performance-based approach, he said, more existing fueling facilities will be able to integrate hydrogen systems and support the developing fuel-cell electric vehicle market.

Sandia is also in the process of developing a risk-informed approach for shortening the separation distances for liquid hydrogen storage at fueling stations, as current efforts only examined separation distances for gaseous hydrogen. Liquid hydrogen is attractive because it takes up less space than gaseous hydrogen and allows fueling stations to accommodate larger numbers of fuel-cell electric vehicles. However, there are additional issues associated with the low temperatures required for liquid systems installed on small properties.

We need to do more experimental and modeling work to understand and evaluate the science and physics of liquid hydrogen. By evaluating the risks quantitatively, we believe we can shorten the separation distances required in the code for liquid hydrogen just as we did with gaseous hydrogen. That could then lead to even more fueling stations that can accept hydrogen and support the continued growth of the fuel-cell electric vehicle market.

—Chris San Marchi

Sandia’s hydrogen safety, codes and standards program is a diverse portfolio of activities funded by the Department of Energy’s Fuel Cell Technologies Office to provide the technical basis for developing and revising safety codes and standards for hydrogen infrastructure, including the NFPA 2 code.

This work is aligned with Hydrogen Fueling Infrastructure Research and Station Technology (H2FIRST) (earlier post), a new project established by the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.




I said many time to open hydrogen stations everywhere that do hydrogen by small machinery at the point of sale by water electrolysis. Please forget liquid hydrogen, it cost too much.


Providing quick charge facilities for EVs and H2 from NG or electricity for FCEVs at existing gas stations or at new locations, like Tesla and Hyundai-Toyota-Honda are doing or planning to do, will not be as challenging as many posters would like it to be.

Over 30% of the gas/diesel stations in our area have already closed due to lack of customers mainly due to more efficient smaller ICEVs and fast growing number of HEVs and PHEVs.

Ex-gas station locations are highly polluted and very costly to recycle for other uses. Most are left abandoned. Could they become candidates for future EV and/or FCEV charge stations?


Over 30% of the gas/diesel stations in our area have already closed due to lack of customers mainly due to more efficient smaller ICEVs and fast growing number of HEVs and PHEVs.

Where did you get this information???


The local newspapers and my own eyes.

We went from 5 to 2 refineries and soon down to one. That's a 60% reduction and soon to be 80%.

Large (12 to 15 mpg) gas guzzlers and specially large pick ups have been mostly phased out in our area and replaced with 30+ mpg smaller more efficient ICEVs and 40 to 50 mpg Hybrids. Near future PHEVs, BEVs and FCEVs will further reduce the consumption of liquid fuels.

With more efficient public transport (e-subways, Hybrid and ICE buses and e-trains) many people drive less. The average (according to car Insurance data) has gone down from 18,000 Km/year to 15,000 Km/year and falling. The higher gasoline price ($5.30 Cd/US gal) or ($4.95 USD/gal) is also a driving restrain factor.

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