Turboexpander for Direct Cooling in Hydrogen Vehicle Fueling Infrastructure

Matthew Post, Daniel Leighton, Gabriela Bran-Anleu, Ethan Hecht, Steven Wiryadinata, Brian Ehrhart, Tom Conboy

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) have been identified as one of a few options for zero carbon emissions transportation. A major advantage of FCEVs is that they can fuel quickly and follow a familiar fueling behavior to hydrocarbon-fueled vehicles. Whether light duty or heavy duty, the goal for a hydrogen dispenser is to fuel a vehicle in the same amount of time as the fossil fuel equivalent. When hydrogen is dispensed into the vehicle storage system, however, the temperature rises due to the Joule-Thomson effect and the heat of compression. Typically, vehicles store the compressed hydrogen in composite overwrapped pressure vessels that have a polymer liner with an operational temperature limit of 85 degrees C. This temperature limit can be exceeded during fast fueling if hydrogen is not precooled. Precooling allows for a dispenser to fuel a vehicle at a faster flow rate by preventing the storage tank on the vehicle from overheating. Fueling protocols and requirements are presented in SAE J2601 Fueling Protocols for Light Duty Gaseous Hydrogen Surface Vehicles [1]. A heavy-duty equivalent is under development with similar requirements for precooling. Currently, conventional precooling for light-duty vehicle refueling uses a heat exchanger and chiller to cool the hydrogen gas to -40 degrees C before entering the vehicle. The precooling system represents a significant part of the station capital and operating costs, so if the cost of the precooling system can be reduced by improving its efficiency, the overall station capital and operating cost can be reduced. In this project, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) researchers teamed up to investigate the turboexpander precooling application. A turboexpander is a device that places a turbine in a flow path where a pressure differential can be attained. This expansion device will extract work and lower the temperature of the fluid as the pressure reduces. While initial calculations based on established principles showed potential for a turboexpander to generate cooled gas, much work needs to be done to prove the concept. Turboexpanders typically work best under steady state conditions, while the dispenser is a very dynamic flow system. Dynamic turboexpander systems have been proven, such as a turbocharger on a gasoline vehicle. The inlet pressure at a dispenser is also much higher than any other known turboexpander system but should behave similarly to higher density fluids at lower pressures. Having both performed initial calculations, NREL and SNL researchers teamed up to investigate the turboexpander precooling application further. A project was soon built around the idea with SNL performing system modeling using previously proven capabilities and NREL performing hardware characterization with established station capabilities. Creare LLC was contracted as the turbomachinery expert to design and build the concept device. Part way through the project, however, contracting issues with the funding partner caused the project to terminate early before building and characterizing the concept device. While the project could not continue, many key findings were already learned. This paper is a summary of those findings.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages30
StatePublished - 2023

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-5700-86669


  • dispenser
  • hydrogen
  • precooling
  • turboexpander


Dive into the research topics of 'Turboexpander for Direct Cooling in Hydrogen Vehicle Fueling Infrastructure'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this