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Gasoline car fire in Swain video
Which car would you rather be in? This gasoline fire, which had been burning for over two minutes, contrasts sharply with a hydrogen fuel fire in a similar vehicle.

Hydrogen Car Fire Surprise

Video documents results of hydrogen and gasoline car fires.

By EV World

On a dark Florida night in 2001 an unusual and revealing experiment took place. Dr. Michael Swain with the University of Miami at Coral Gables attempted to simulate two car fires, one created by a 1/16th inch puncture in a gasoline fuel line, the other by a leaking hydrogen connector. He video taped the experiment to document what would happen if the leaks ignited. As the photos below clearly demonstrate, consumer fears about hydrogen as a transportation fuel would seem to be pretty much unfounded.

While the gasoline-fed fire eventually consumed the second test vehicle, leaving it a smoldering heap of charred steel and melted glass, the hydrogen fire was over in less than two minutes and left the hydrogen-tank equipped test car virtually undamaged. In fact, the heat inside the car never got above 67 degrees.

Dr. Swain points out in Fuel Leak Simulation [pdf] that while the gasoline fire started as the result of a simple, small hole in the fuel line, for the hydrogen fire to occur, it would have taken the catastrophic failure of four separate safety systems, all at the same time, a highly unlikely occurrence.

Yet to be tested is what happens in a typical collision. Will the hydrogen tank(s) explode? While EV World is unaware of this type of crash simulation in a hydrogen-fueled car, we suspect that given current design trends that mount the high pressure (5-10,000 psi) tank nearer the center of the vehicle rather than behind the rear axle, which is where most gasoline (petrol) tanks are placed, that there is less likelihood of the tanks being ruptured.

In addition, modern automotive hydrogen tanks are encased in cocoons of carbon fiber and Kelvar, whereas gasoline tanks are simple steel containers. Still, we anticipate as research moves forward that we'll see a similar video of a hydrogen car crash in the not too distant future. If and when we do, we'll be sure to present it here on EVWorld.Com.


Photo 1 - Time: 0 min, 0 sec - Hydrogen powered vehicle on the left. Gasoline powered vehicle on the right.

Photo 2 - Time 0 min, 3 seconds - Ignition of both fuels occur. Hydrogen flow rate 2100 SCFM. Gasoline flow rate 680 cc/min.

Photo 3 - Time: 1 min, 0 sec - Hydrogen flow is subsiding, view of gasoline vehicle begins to enlarge

Photo 4 - Time: 1 min, 30 sec - Hydrogen flow almost finished. View of gasoline powered vehicle has been expanded to nearly full screen

Photo 6 - Time: 2 min, 20 sec - Deflagration in the interior, following frame shows flames exiting around edges of trunk lid.

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