I RECENTLY VISITED SANDIA NATIONAL LABORATORIES in New Mexico, in part to continue a longstanding relationship that the Fire Protection Research Foundation has had with Sandia and its work related to the safety of hydrogen technology. The trip reminded me of the importance of this type of high-level research, and how that work can be applied to NFPA codes and standards.
As part of its interest in assisting in the introduction of hydrogen as a vehicle fuel, the Department of Energy provided support to the Foundation for the development of NFPA 2, Hydrogen Technologies Code. From the beginning, Sandia, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado, and other Department of Energy National Laboratories were valuable participants in the Hydrogen Technology Technical Committee, and in providing data related to determining safe locations for hydrogen facilities. The Foundation acted as a bridge in helping the committee translate code provision questions into research problem statements, and in 2013 published a hydrogen safety code research agenda and gap assessment. The close relationship between Sandia and the committee continues to this day.
One purpose of my latest visit to New Mexico was to explore how we can bring Sandia together with industry to address the problem of separation distances for the storage of liquid hydrogen in refueling stations. I also met with a group at Sandia that is working on safety aspects of lithium-ion battery energy storage systems. The fire service has expressed concern regarding protection of these systems—large-format batteries in storage containers often located within buildings—as they proliferate in commercial occupancies, and I wanted to figure out a way to use Sandia’s expertise in safety testing this technology to develop solutions for manual and fixed protection systems.
The Foundation is the bridge between the research community and a variety of organizations, including NFPA, who can apply that research to solve fire protection and other safety problems. We have developed relationships with an array of research institutions across the country, and we are always looking for opportunities to make these kinds of connections. The research world is full of projects and sophisticated facilities and processes that, if not developed with applications in mind or without a pathway to technology transfer and implementation, will simply gather dust on a shelf.
One challenge is scale: university and laboratory research is often multiyear in scope, spanning concept, execution, and peer review. By comparison, much of our work, by the nature of codes and standards and their revision schedules, is short-term and often focused on a tightly bounded problem. But in that contrast lies the strength of the relationship: our codes and standards benefit from the technical foundation that research provides, and research benefits from the direction and topical urgency provided by the codes and standards process.
In the case of energy storage systems, we once again face a safety problem created by the introduction of a new energy technology. I hope that the same solution that has worked so well for hydrogen safety—a strong, long-term partnership driven by the needs of codes and standards and fed by high-quality research—will fill yet another gap in our safety infrastructure.