By on August 27, 2010

YNN reports that the Rochester, NY airport was closed for 50 minutes yesterday, when a hydrogen refueling station run by GM supplier Praxair was rocked by two giant explosions. Details of the explosion are still extremely sketchy, with YNN explaining only that

Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks said it occurred during a tank exchange operation. Brooks said a driver from Praxair was doing the exchange when it appears that some type of arch occurred.

It’s not yet clear if GM’s Sequel hydrogen test fleet had been using the fueling station, but this is the most recent occurrence of the kind of disaster that has helped prevent the development of a large-scale hydrogen infrastructure. Two people were reportedly injured in the blast, but one can only imagine the result of such an explosion in a more urban environment, or in close proximity to a gasoline pumping station. The long awaited hydrogen future may have just slipped a little further out of reach…

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45 Comments on “Hydrogen Refueling Station Explodes In Rochester, NY...”


  • avatar
    redmondjp

    “Oh, the humanity!”

    (sorry, couldn’t resist, you young’ns will need to look this one up)

    My hunch is that they didn’t have the truck properly bonded to earth ground and/or the receiving tank. You can build up a whopping static charge when transferring fluids and gases.

  • avatar
    cwallace

    Quick, institute a moratorium! Oh, wait, New York is a blue state? Never mind.

  • avatar
    iNeon

    I fail to see why GM needs to be mentioned twice in a reading unrelated to GM.

    • 0 avatar

      Without an industry connection, it’s just a hydrogen explosion. You think we wouldn’t mention Honda’s FCX Clarity if a hydrogen refueling station went up in Southern California? It’s all about context… the bias hounds need to take a chill pill.

    • 0 avatar
      iNeon

      That sounds about right, because– it is just a Hydrogen explosion. In the same way the Gulf spill became “BP’s Big Gulf Spill Extravaganza Especial,” this needn’t become ‘GM’s Big Hydrogen Explosion Extravaganza Especial.”

      I’m not accusing the website of bias. I’m simply saying that this writing would be the same story without GM mentioned. Maybe this means GM’s part in the story needs to be elaborated upon to make the links between the Two more coherent.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      I don’t suspect bias, but I too must admit confusion re. the GM reference.

      Praxair is a large supplier of industrial gasses.

      Unless the affected station was a prototype or using technology in common with what GM uses, or Praxair is GM’s sole source of H2 technology for refuelling, what is the actual relevance of mentioning GM?

      Does no other OEM use Praxair or its technology for any H2-related endeavours?

  • avatar
    thecavanaughs

    Some type of arch? I think it was more likely some type of arc- and not just any type, but that pesky electrical variety.

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      Yeah, I noticed that. I’m thinking, are we talking St. Louis, or Triomphe? Golden, maybe? Or perhaps an arch enemy?

      *sighs*

    • 0 avatar
      porschespeed

      Perisoft,

      Da bestest/saddest part is that the rider maid it out of fivth grade not noing both werds and there respectable definishuns…

      (Ahh, well. ‘Tis a living language and all that.)

  • avatar
    bikegoesbaa

    Doesn’t Praxair supply hundreds (thousands?) of companies with industrial gasses? Wikipedia says they’re the largest industrial gas company in the hemisphere: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Praxair

    Given that, I don’t see how it’s at all surprising or significant that they supply GM. In fact, I doubt that there’s an auto maker anywhere in the US that they don’t supply in one form or another.

    • 0 avatar
      Daanii2

      The news people were just explaining why the hydrogen tanks are on the airport grounds. GM uses them to refuel their hydrogen cars that run at the Rochester airport.

      These things happen. No one is criticizing GM. At least, that I heard. That people are suggesting that this story has been turned into an unwarranted bash of GM seems an overreaction.

    • 0 avatar
      OldandSlow

      Praxair/Air Liquide delivery trucks have been pulling up to our loading docks forever. Quite often you’ll see compressed H2 cylinders on the same flat bed as the O2.

  • avatar
    carguy

    Just like a plan crash doesn’t mean we stop flying, or an oil spill doesn’t stop us from using oil products, a hydrogen accident simply means we have to improve the technology. Hydrogen is a great liquid battery – much more so than NiMH.

  • avatar
    dagwood

    It just can’t get any easier for big oil.

    1. Can’t do hyrdrogen, cuz it’s just not safe! Infrastructure costs too much money – pipe dream!

    2. Can’t do ethanol, cuz it’s stupid to use food for fuel! (although nobody wants corn products as food, anyway). Ethanol will hurt your engine! It takes more energy to produce than it provides (actually not true)! Rich farmers are getting richer off our subsidies!

    3. Electric burns DIRTY coal! Really bad for the environment! Lithium / Nickel mining destroys the earth!

    Guess we better just stick with gasoline.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    We kill people in Iraq and Afghanistan daily. We killed 4 million Vietnamese. We bombed and burned to the ground Tokio, Dresden, Hiroshima. And someone will tell me that couple of dead people will scare anyone in this nation?

    • 0 avatar
      Daanii2

      “And someone will tell me that couple of dead people will scare anyone in this nation?”

      Nobody died. The driver was burned, but is doing fine. The other injury was an employee at the nearby Burger King who suffered ear pain during the explosion. No mention was made of how severe the ear pain was, but I think the injured woman is expected to live.

    • 0 avatar
      thecavanaughs

      An excellent point, sir! After all, when discussing the inherent problems of building a robust yet safe Hydrogen infrastructure it is critical that we all stop and consider the 1945 bombing of Dresden.

    • 0 avatar
      Lokki

      It’s not about political cheap shots, Lefty. It’s about the impracticality of hydrogen powered vehicles in any large scale.

      Hell, people can barely put gas in their cars without blowing themselves up. Hydrogen powered cars COULD be done, but the expenses involved (in part for making it safe enough for morons) make it unreasonable, particularly when there are other choices that can use our existing infrastructure.

    • 0 avatar
      mikey

      @thecavanaughs…Excellent retort! I’m still laughing.

    • 0 avatar
      porschespeed

      Let’s not lose perspective.

      Would one prefer to be close to a hydrogen fire or a gasoline fire?

      Hydrogen leaks out and dissipates incredibly rapidly into the atmosphere. The fire, while hot, is incredibly brief.

      I’m guessing most of us here have seen at least one or two gasoline powered cars burn to the ground.

    • 0 avatar
      mikey

      @slavuta… My ninety five year old mother,would be hard pressed to remember what she had for breakfast this morning. But she was a twenty six year old nursing sister during the London blitz. To this day she can describe in graphic detail the fifty seven days and night of unrelentless bombing. She patched up wounded men women and children, many died horrible deaths.

      Oddly I never heard her views on the American bombing of Dresden.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      Ok boys. Let me rephrase.
      We have 5000 airplanes any moment in the sky. If one of them falls we will feel sorry for families of dead but we will still say that it is the safest transportation.
      Hydrogen may save not only us from all sorts of trouble but also it might prolong survival of the [our] species. Yes, some will die in the process but most will benefit. It is normal, generally.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      For what it is worth, the bombing of Dresden was not an exclusively American-conducted bombing. The RAF conducted the first two raids at night before the Americans came later. All told, American tonnage was 4,441, British was 2,659, for a total of 7,100 tonnes dropped.

  • avatar
    JT

    Sorry, Edward, but I must agree with iNeon above; this is bad reportage and below TTAC’s standards. Indicting by faint connection doesn’t lend much credibility.

    “It’s not yet clear if GM’s Sequel hydrogen test fleet had been using the fueling station,…”

    Again, WTF? Using it at that moment? yesterday? months ago? Why even mention it? Hey, wait, could one of the two uninjured technicians spell “GM”? There must be a connection there somewhere.

    “but one can only imagine the result of such an explosion…”

    This is not journalism or reporting, it’s straight scare-writing. If you have an opinion on the use of hydrogen as fuel, put in an opinion piece for which the site has become known.

    “The long awaited hydrogen future may have just slipped a little further…”

    Well, ya got one right. Favorite quote from a development engineer friend:
    “Hydrogen is the fuel of the future…and always will be.”

    • 0 avatar
      Daanii2

      Edward’s reporting was fine.

      GM is in the story because it’s their refueling station. GM’s supplier Praxair runs it for them to refuel GM vehicles used at the airport. All the local news stories mention GM just as prominently as does TTAC.

  • avatar
    tced2

    Gasoline isn’t exactly a harmless substance. At normal atmospheric temperature and pressure, gasoline is mostly a liquid – not as dangerous. But hydrogen is a gas at normal atmospheric temperature and pressure and is very explosive.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Hydrogen will burn when between 4% and 75% mixture in air, making it very dangerous in even very low quantities.

    Good design of hydrogen gas handling equipment (or any flammable gas) incorporates the use of flame arrestors in the lines. Flame arrestors prevent the propagation of a flame front up a pipe, in a way that prevents pipe explosion/bursting and uncontrolled burning. Such a design assumes that an ignition source WILL be present.

    This is how mining equipment and industrial gas detection equipment is constructed. Failure to do so for a hydrogen refueling station would be foolhardy negligence at best. Since this is a Praxair site (and they know the business), I’ll guess that someone somehow bypassed a safety device to cause this accident.

    But as tced2 points out, gasoline fires and explosions are far more common, and I would argue that gasoline is more dangerous than hydrogen, since its liquid and vapors don’t dissipate nearly as quickly as hydrogen.

  • avatar
    crc

    I used to ride by there all the time. It’s a pretty nice little airport. The Burger King, not so much.

    • 0 avatar
      rnc

      BK has become rat a$$ nasty, can’t compete with McD on cost (kindof like Old GM in comparison to Toyota, so quality just degrades) recently coming home late one night I was at a long stop light and watched the cleaning crew use the mops that they were using on the floors to then clean the tables.

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      BK over here (upstate NY) is fine.

      Wendy’s is terrible, though. The place downtown near me is dirty-ish, everything is run down, the food is bad even by fast standards, and I swear to god everyone who works there is on parole. It’s kind of bizarre.

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      The BK nearest to our house closed a few months ago. I was shocked, because I’ve never seen a fast food joint go out of business before. It isn’t, however, missed.

  • avatar

    Clearly, Chuck Conners had something to do with this explosion.
    He has a history: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CTIkdBXe8g0.

  • avatar
    Bimmer

    A little over two years ago northern part of Toronto was awaken by natural gas explosion that occurred when banned tanker to tanker transfer was implemented. Two people died and many ended up homeless as a result of the explosion. Here’s a link if somebody interested in it: http://www.citytv.com/toronto/citynews/news/local/article/4187–sunrise-propane-explosion-a-look-back

    So, no matter what it is gasoline, natural gas or hydrogen, accidents happen. It does not mean that we will stop using one or another, it means in the future there going to be more safeguards.

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    Betcha the lock wasn’t properly engaged for fueling. A spill, a spark and we have liftoff!!

    All the liquid gases have the same weakness, we’re forcing it out of its natural state and it’s not stable. I’d rather stick with the fuels we have now.

  • avatar
    Steven02

    I don’t know if this is going to start an end to hydrogen as a fuel, but I would hope not. There are several gasoline fires a day. Natural gas has had a few bad explosions. There have been a few documented nuclear incidents as well. All of these are still in use today and will likely continue. I wouldn’t think that hydrogen will be much different.

  • avatar
    porschespeed

    Steven02,

    Exactly.

    There was a Sinclair station about 1000 feet away from my parents’ condo about 20 years ago.

    Long story short, propane-fired heater feed pipe developed a leak. (For some reason the propane was left on in the summer, but I digress…) Smoking mechanic made it go ‘boom’.

    Interestingly enough, no fatalities. The gas station was reduced to toothpicks and rubble. My parents got new windows and sliding glass door on the backside of their condo.

    No one suggested abandoning gasoline or propane. Ever.

    Cost of doing business. That’s life.

    • 0 avatar
      BuzzDog

      No one suggested abandoning gasoline or propane. Ever.

      Of course not. As you said, it was 20 years ago, when we weren’t so focused on protecting ourselves from, well, ourselves.

      The other day I opened a new jar of peanut butter and noticed the label stated: “ALLERGY WARNING: Contains peanuts.”

      Sometimes I wonder how mankind managed to survive all these millennia given all these dangers, and the fact that safety devices and warning labels were unknown up until a few decades ago.

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      Fewer people survived, that’s for sure. Product safety and food safety regs are incredibly useful. We just don’t tend to think about them; we buy a washing machine or a toaster with a good idea they won’t maim us or burn down our house. In the ’20s, as a girl, my grandmother got her arm dragged through a washing machine wringer… Crushed it flat. She never got most movement back. Those machines were horribly unsafe, but they were the only kind available. So… Yeah, there are wishy-washy wimpy regulations, but without them we’d never know what products would electrocute us due to a design flaw, or what food would sicken us due to lax preparation. We take all the positive results for granted, and then bitch about how we’re wimpy because of the very few absurd outliers…

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    Hydrogen’s “Hindenburg Omen”?


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