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Fire and Explosion At Hydrogen Station Near Rochester Airport 357

Posted by timothy
from the nothing-can-go-wrong dept.
RossR writes "There was a hydrogen fire and explosion at a renewable fuel station used by government vehicles near Rochester's airport. The nearby freeway and airport were closed resulting in diverted flights. This may the first major incident at a hydrogen vehicle refueling station. GM has their major fuel cell development center nearby, in the town of Honeoye Falls. The fire occurred when the 18-wheeler tractor truck was transferring hydrogen to the station. The airport press conference reported that airport firefighters responded first and initially waited on the scene deciding how to respond. No news yet if the hard to see flames of hydrogen combustion contributed to this delay. The fueling station is also adjacent to a NY State Trooper station, and a firefighting training facility is a few blocks away." RossR also provides a Police/FD Radio transcript. Luckily, no one was killed, and only two injured, including the driver.
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Fire and Explosion At Hydrogen Station Near Rochester Airport

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  • Danger is known (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dmitriy (40004) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @04:22PM (#33385408) Journal
    Behind Cisco campus in San Jose, there is a very nice trail running by a creek. This trail runs next to VTA bus depot that has a hydrogen fuelling station.

    This trail has HUGE signs saying (someting like) HYDROGEN FUELING STATION - RUN AWAY IF ALARM ACTIVATED
  • by Fwipp (1473271) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @04:23PM (#33385426)

    It was actually kind of scary, my whole office building felt & heard this from two miles away. I can't imagine what it would have been like to see up close.

    It wasn't until a while later that we found out what had happened, though. Luckily, I hear that there was only one injury though.

  • Burger King worker? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by dkuntz (220364) <(moc.skrowtenhsi ... (ztnuk.salguod)> on Thursday August 26, 2010 @04:23PM (#33385440) Homepage

    I'm wondering how this BK worker got hurt... did she lean too far out of the window and fall?

  • "Hard to see flames" (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Thursday August 26, 2010 @04:30PM (#33385550) Homepage Journal

    No news yet if the hard to see flames of hydrogen combustion contributed to this delay.

    So, you'd think if they went to the trouble of building this that the local fire department would have been involved and procured the necessary equipment, say a pair of night vision goggles so that a man on the truck could see the flames.

    Outfitting each firefighter with the right training and equipment won't be cheap, but neither are ladder trucks.

  • by perpenso (1613749) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @04:41PM (#33385716)

    with calling Hydrogen "renewable fuel"? It still has to be generated - and most of the energy we use to extract Hydrogen comes from burning fossil fuels ... But it's still lossy as fuck making hydrogen.

    That is true today. However various universities are researching the generation of hydrogen using biological processes, organism + water + sunlight --> H.

  • by Thagg (9904) <thadbeier@gmail.com> on Thursday August 26, 2010 @04:45PM (#33385776) Journal

    The Equinox fuel-cell vehicles have three high-pressure tanks, that can be filled up to 10,000 psi (more than 3x what a SCUBA tank pressure is)

    One of those tanks failing will make a big boom! The fire, if there was one, would probably burn out almost immediately, as the hydrogen will disperse quickly and then got straight up fast.

    There's a nice bit in "Dark Sun" about filling the Ivy Mike device with dueterium. All the leftover was burned, and made a roaring news but didn't have any visible fire.

    Thad

  • by meerling (1487879) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @05:02PM (#33385994)
    Yep, I even know someone that has a nasty scar on his arm from when a mainspring blew and slashed him.
  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @05:11PM (#33386118) Homepage Journal

    In this fire at the Rochester airport, two people were injured with some surface burns, even though a tankful burned and consumed an entire pressurized container truck. I saw no evidence of any other damage, it didn't burn the nearby containers of jet fuel, no firefighters were injured, no smoke inhalation.

    If this had been petrofuel, the damage would probably have been a lot worse. Petrofuel sticks to stuff, doesn't disperse, makes lots of toxic smoke, is toxic in its own right.

    Besides, nobody claims that hydrogen doesn't burn. And there's no new evidence, especially here, that the Hindenburg burned because of its hydrogen rather than its documented explosive material skin.

    So why do you hate hydrogen? You don't want your own to find out, and turn against you.

  • by natehoy (1608657) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @05:21PM (#33386278) Journal

    Precisely. Only the vapors (gasses) burn, and that's basically true of any fuel (even wood, which is why wood is so hard to start). Solids need to be vaporized before they can mix with oxygen and burn.

    Hydrogen is a gas at standard pressures and temperatures, similar to propane and natural gas. No vaporization required, it's ready to go. These fuels are the hardest to store safely because of this, and because they all pretty much need to be stored under pressure (liquified, usually) to have a sufficient quantity to be useful. Give it an environment where it can mix with air, and it will do so EXTREMELY rapidly, and spread really fast, and expose it to a spark and the whole lot goes at once.

    Gasoline is (especially in warmer temperatures) a liquid that is very prone to vaporization. So it's not quite as likely to burn as hydrogen (but it's pretty damned close, since it vaporizes so readily), but there tends to be less initial "boom" and more sustained burn as the liquid vaporizes. Vaporize gasoline quickly and thoroughly enough, though, and it's got nearly the explosive potential of hydrogen.

    Diesel (and Bio-Diesel, jet fuel, kerosene, home heating oil, lamp oil, cooking oil, animal fat, etc) are much less prone to vaporization at standard temperatures, and require more heat to vaporize, but they are more energy dense. So these fuels are relatively safe to handle compared to the other two (a single spark is highly unlikely to set them off - they require more sustained pre-heating to start the combustion), but once you manage to light it up it's a lot harder to put out, and it burns a lot hotter, and burns for a very long time.

  • by RossR (94714) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @05:32PM (#33386404)

    About a year ago the dispenser listed the price as being $1 per GGE. I assume that was a subsidized price. Unfortunately it did not take regular credit cards only cards issued specifically for the station.

  • by rickb928 (945187) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @05:37PM (#33386464) Homepage Journal

    Yes, dear...

    My high school lab partner and I mixed hydrogen and chlorine in a vessel and showed it was so unstable that sunlight would ignite it. No, we didn't use very much of either, as it was pretty energetic, and gave a nice pop each trial. we popped several times to prove taking it out of the dark box was the trigger. We did manage to pop it once with rough handling, but I think the lid coming off the box caused that one.

    And yes, we underestimated the amount of chlorine we generated for the experiment, and evacuated the entire wing. Hehe... Anything for a morning out of school eh? At least we know what chlorine does to window glass now.

    We also burned hydrogen in the chlorine atmosphere we had handy. Colorless flame. We cooked on top of that vessel to prove combustion or something was happening in there.

    Blame my o-chem teacher in high school for my not taking up a career in chemistry and so destroying all living things.

  • Re:What is the idea (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Teancum (67324) <robert_horning@@@netzero...net> on Thursday August 26, 2010 @05:54PM (#33386694) Homepage Journal

    Unfortunately it takes somebody with slightly more than an 8th grade understanding of science to realize that gasoline is also nothing more than a storage medium too, and not really an energy source.

    Point of fact: Far more energy goes into the processing, refining, and transportation of gasoline than is ever extracted from it in the form of pure heat alone (much less propulsion or "useful work") when it is burned in an internal combustion engine.

    Both hydrogen and gasoline are fuel sources that allow "portable" devices to operate independently of a large central energy depot for extended periods of time. For that matter, the same goes for electric batteries. The only difference between these fuels is the delivery method of that energy supply.

  • Re:What is the idea (Score:3, Interesting)

    by PagosaSam (884523) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @06:39PM (#33387198)

    All very true. Thank you.

    It got me thinking though. I've never seen a solar collector as efficient as a field of sugar beets. ;D

  • by ScrewMaster (602015) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @07:00PM (#33387430)

    Personally, if I were to undergo a fuel tank fire/explosion, I'd much rather have hydrogen in the tank.

    Huh? Liquid fuel is a hell of a lot safer. Seriously, how often do you hear about massive fires and explosions involving gas stations and/or gasoline-fueled vehicles? Answer: you don't. It's a fairly mature and comparatively safe technology ... the real danger is the average American driver. Conversely, anyone who thinks a tank of pressurized, highly-flammable gas is a good thing in an automobile is nuts. Frankly, I feel the same way about big lithium-ion battery packs in cars: I'm waiting for a Prius to crash into a bridge siding and have a piece of rebar spike the battery.

    The GP is right: if we're going to use hydrogen as an automotive fuel we need a better way to store it. Pressure tanks just don't cut it, not with hydrogen.

  • by SETIGuy (33768) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @07:02PM (#33387446) Homepage
    What happens to the water between the time it is "ozonized" and filtered and the time it gets to the bottle. What kind of machine does it go through? What is it and its pipes made of? What is it lubricated with? What were the bottles washed with? How often do they clean the machine? What plasticising chemicals were used in the production of the bottle? How many complex hydrocarbon will leach out? They can't filter those out. Same with the bottle cap. What happens when the machine breaks down? You'd be safer going to San Bernardino and drinking kool-aid made with the tap water.
  • by FloodSpectre (745213) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @07:08PM (#33387498)
    I heard it in the South Wedge too, just off of Mt. Hope. I was home for my lunch break and heard something like a dump truck hitting a brick wall. With all the construction going on, I assumed that too ;)
  • by Rei (128717) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @07:41PM (#33387778) Homepage

    When the Hindenburg burned, huge amounts of its unburned skin landed in pieces all over the landing site -- self-extinguished by the winds from the fire. The skin has a burn rate of centimeters per second where it can be sustained. The Hindenburg burned at a rate of *meters* per second. The amount of skin compared to the amount of hydrogen was miniscule.

    Hydrogen burns in almost any fuel-air mixture -- if I remember right, it's something along the lines of 4% to 70%. It mixes with air incredibly rapidly even when not pressurized or driven by intense convection currents.

    Helium blimps do not burn. Period. That's why they switched to them, even using the exact same fabrics at the time. Any skin fire would be quickly extinguished by the inert gas inside.

    It's simply a fact that hydrogen is an *extremely* flammable, easy to ignite, easy to mix with air fuel. Way more than gasoline, and significantly more than CNG.

  • by Rei (128717) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @07:57PM (#33387872) Homepage

    In this fire at the Rochester airport, two people were injured with some surface burns

    Injured "with some surface burns"? The driver suffered second degree burns on his face. Want to see what that looks like? Link [burnsurgery.com] (not the same person, but the same condition). There was nobody else at the station at the time. The other person who was burned was at a Burger King -- across a large parking lot and a major road, then across the Burger King's parking lot. She was flash burned.

    Had this been in a residential neighborhood instead of the outskirts of an airport, it could have been catastrophic.

    Yes, petrofuel burns and smokes for a while. For a while. Hydrogen burns incredibly rapidly. You can't run away from a hydrogen fire.

    And there's no new evidence, especially here, that the Hindenburg burned because of its hydrogen rather than its documented explosive material skin.

    Oh, for God's sake, even the Mythbusters have debunked this one. But if you'd rather a scientific paper, here you go. [colorado.edu] Here's [airships.net] a nice wrapup of the whole thing.

    I think one of the most damning things is Bain's own video [youtube.com]. He has to use a freaking Jacob's ladder to ignite his skin sample, and as soon as the Jacob's ladder's energy is gone, the skin self-extinguishes.

  • by Rei (128717) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @08:01PM (#33387912) Homepage

    My father was a refinery manager. Even with the vast amounts of oil and natural gas they had there, the proportionally small amounts of hydrogen (used for the cat crackers and hydrocrackers) led to the most horror stories.

    Gasoline vapors do not pool anywhere close to the degree that hydrogen does, as gasoline vapors break down over time, are heavy, and require a very specific fuel-air mix to burn. Here, just to make it easy: how about you go compare NASA's safety handling guides for JP1 with their guide for handling hydrogen. I'll put it this way: the JP1 guide doesn't tell you to build your buildings *planning* for the roof to be blown off.

    Rocket-grade peroxide (HTP) is also very dangerous, and I wouldn't recommend it for cars, either.

    Gasoline requires about ten times as much energy to ignite as hydrogen. As a consequence, hydrogen management guidelines require extreme measures be taken for spark suppression, as even the tinist static spark can ignite it.

  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @08:12PM (#33387984) Homepage Journal

    Yes, 2nd degree face burns are "some surface burns", as are "flash burns". I used to work full time at a large NYC area hospital that is the region's burn center (downstate excluding NYC), and I know what burns look like. I know that people with gasoline burns have third degree burns, limbs charred off. Worse, I know that petrofuel fires do burn for "a while", all the while putting smoke in everyone's lungs and mucous membranes, which is what usually kills or overcomes people then killed by the fire. I also know that major petrofuel fires happen all the time, despite well over a century of practice in avoiding and containing them, while this fire is evidently the first major one even though the fuel has been in wide use for some years, and specialized use for longer than that.

    Hydrogen does indeed burn incredibly rapidly, which means that most of it burns away from the people near it. The hydrogen rises away from the surface where the people are, and fills empty spaces with relatively low amounts of heat as it burns off. Indeed, it burns rapidly enough to explode under just STP air pressure, but the force of that explosion and the heat of its fire quickly abates, without transferring as much energy into people and flammable objects (like other fuel inside other tanks) as does a petrofuel fire. Which tends to burn through fuel tanks and explode them, too.

    As for the Hindenburg, even the airships.net article you pointed me to, which is indeed titled "Hindenburg Paint Did Not Cause the Disaster", also admits

    It is possible (though not likely, given the wet and rainy conditions) that the covering was the cause of the initial ignition, but if the Hindenburg had been inflated with helium instead of hydrogen, even a small fire on the outer covering would not have resulted in a major catastrophe.

    So what's for sure is that the airships.net author and community doesn't know what caused the fire, and that the covering was entirely possibly the cause of the initial ignition, and not at all ruled out. The obvious agenda of the author is to complain about an airship being filled with hydrogen instead of helium (due to the US embargo of its helium monopoly to the Germans), rather than a definitive debunking of "what caused the disaster", which it cannot and does not offer.

    Again, nobody's saying that hydrogen doesn't burn - that's inane, and contradicts using it for fuel. What is at issue is the relative safety of hydrogen vs petrofuel. This incident shows that hydrogen fuel can cause fires and explosions, but by comparison to, say, a gasoline tanker burning and exploding, hydrogen seems a lot safer.

  • by adolf (21054) <flodadolf@gmail.com> on Thursday August 26, 2010 @09:31PM (#33388466) Journal

    What happens to the water between the time it is drawn from a reservoir and filtered and the time it gets to the tap? What kind of machine does it go through? What is it and its pipes made of? What is it lubricated with? What were the machines washed with? How often do they clean the water tower? What halogens were intentionally introduced in the production of the water? How many complex hydrocarbon will leach out of the piping? They can't filter those out. Same with the plumbing in your house. What happens when the plumbing breaks down? You'd be safer going to San Bernardino and drinking kool-aid made with bottled RO water.

  • Re:Geeze (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cvd6262 (180823) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @11:00PM (#33388884)

    Local news: Hydrogen fueling facility explodes on [street]. No word yet on damage or casualties. In other news, please tune in to the end of our broadcast to find out how [common household product] could be KILLING YOUR FAMILY.

    I live in Rochester, you insensitive clod...

    Actually, you're dead on. The 10 o'clock news said the explosion was near Scott St., and then proceeded with (I kid you not) a story about a four-year-old who wore too many Silly Bands for too long and had sore skin because of it.

  • by tibit (1762298) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @11:13PM (#33388952)

    I was only giving helium as an example of a gas that's hard to handle. Small molecules => leaks like hell. Hydrogen is of course worse, but helium is no picnic.

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