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Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture Innovation 2014

Students Win International Prize With Hydrogen Fueling Plan

Final render by WSU students for a hydrogen fueling station that took first place in an international hydrogen design competitionA group of Washington State University students has designed a plan for an innovative and economical fueling station that could help make environmentally friendly, hydrogen-powered cars a viable option for future transportation.

The idea took first place in an international hydrogen design competition against teams from Asia, Europe, South Africa, and North America. The award was announced at the 2014 Alternative Clean Transportation exposition in Long Beach, California.

The annual Hydrogen Student Design Contest challenges university students to design energy applications for real-world use. This year, they were asked to design a transportable, stand-alone, reasonably priced refueling station for hydrogen fuel cell powered cars. The station needed to gas up a vehicle with five kilograms of hydrogen fuel in less than five minutes—enough for a car to travel 300 miles or equivalent to what current gas stations provide. By conducting an economic analysis, the WSU team determined that this would cost about $48 at their station, making it comparable to regular gasoline.

Although hydrogen fuel cell powered cars already exist, they have not been popular primarily because of a lack of available infrastructure to support them. Only a handful of hydrogen gas stations have been built in the United States, and they have each cost $2-$4 million to build. The WSU team’s fueling station design was safe and reliable while also lowering this cost by 75 percent.

Increasing the number of hydrogen fuel powered cars on the road could help reduce harmful carbon dioxide emissions that are changing the earth’s climate. Unlike gasoline powered cars, which produce carbon dioxide, the only waste product of hydrogen fuel cell powered cars is water.

“The design the students developed looks to be completely implementable right now,” said Jake Leachman, assistant professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering and an advisor on the project. “We want to build one, and we should. The business model/idea is innovative and could lead to a startup company.”