Emergency Response Information: Reactive (Including Methanol) (19.8)

Emergency Response Information: Reactive (Including Methanol) (19.8)

Criticality: High
Progress: Addressed, Not Adequately
Score: 20
DOT Relevance: 172 Subpart G

Description of Key Area

This key area pertains to the availability of appropriate information resources needed by first responders to potential emergencies (e.g., accidents) involving the infrastructure that might be used to support the refueling of hydrogen vehicles that have onboard reformers that produce hydrogen from liquid hydrocarbon feedstocks such as methanol.

Reactive, as used here, refers to the concept of fueling hydrogen vehicles with hydrogen-rich liquid hydrocarbon fuels, which are reacted in an onboard reformer to produce the hydrogen gas stream that fuels the fuel cell or internal combustion engine. Methanol (CH3OH, which is often abbreviated as MeOH) is a frequently considered fuel for vehicles with onboard reformers. Methanol, of course, also fuels direct-methanol fuel cells, which are being developed to power small appliances (e.g., notebook computers) but are not likely candidates to power automobiles. Other fuels considered for onboard reforming include gasoline, diesel fuel, and ethanol.

Considerable R&D has been directed toward onboard reforming, vehicles with this technology have been tested, and some fuel cell vehicle fueling stations (e.g., the CaFCP station in West Sacramento) have methanol dispensers. However, this hydrogen vehicle fueling strategy has recently been deemphasized, and DOE has discontinued support of R&D in this area.

Here we are concerned with the packaging and transportation systems that would be needed to support the refueling infrastructure for hydrogen vehicles with onboard reformers.

Discussion of Criticality

This key area will be critical if commercialized hydrogen vehicles have onboard reformers so that they are refueled with a liquid hydrocarbon fuel such as methanol. The liquid hydrocarbon feedstock delivery infrastructure for these vehicles will be similar to the current gasoline and diesel fuel delivery infrastructure. While some applicable emergency response information resources currently exist (e.g., the DOT ERG2004, as discussed below), these resources may not be fully adequate for operations in an open-public-access environment such as a public fueling station.

The important but unanswered questions pertain to the likelihood that hydrogen vehicles with onboard reformers will be commercialized, and which liquid hydrocarbon feedstock delivery infrastructure will develop.

Discussion of Progress

Progress toward providing emergency response information resources appropriate to the refueling transportation infrastructure that might be used to support hydrogen vehicles with onboard reformers is rated as Addressed, Not Adequately. This is because, while some resources currently exist, they may not be fully applicable to delivery of the specific chemical feedstocks to public-access fueling stations.

For example, the DOT ERG2004 lists Methanol (ID Number 1230, with reference to Guide Number 131). Guide Number 131 is for Flammable LiquidsToxic (methanol is poisonous; ingestion of a few ounces can be fatal to humans). The Guidebook also lists and provides some emergency response information for all other likely hydrocarbon feedstocks.

In 2005, the NASFM and DOTs RITA established the Hydrogen Executive Leadership Panel (HELP). HELPs mission is to bring together emergency responders, government regulators, scientists, consumers and experts from the automotive and energy industries to facilitate a safe and orderly transition to hydrogen and other alternative fuel sources. HELP will focus on issues involved in training, educating, and mobilizing emergency responders to work with government, industry, and community groups to facilitate and ensure hydrogen transport, storage and distribution, and the safety of vehicles and environs.


It is recommended that hydrogen vehicle research, development, and demonstration activities should be monitored to identify likely candidate fueling infrastructures that will support the commercialization phase. If it appears that hydrogen vehicles with onboard reformers will be commercialized, the candidate hydrocarbon feedstock to be delivered to fueling stations should be identified, and the adequacy of emergency response information resources for covering delivery of that feedstock to public-access fueling stations should be assessed. If this assessment indicates that more focused emergency response resources are needed, then development of the needed resources should be initiated.