The limited supplies of traditional fossil fuels and environmental damage caused by their CO2 emissions have caused a growing interest in the exploitation of renewable energy sources. By far the most promising replacement fuel for road transport is hydrogen because of its abundance, efficiency, low footprint for carbon and the absence of other harmful emissions. In 2015 it is expected that the number of hydrogen fuel installations will exceed a hundred thousand units.
Because hydrogen can react explosively with air there is inevitably public apprehension about using hydrogen as a mass market fuel that can inhibit wider commercialisation. Technical issues regarding hydrogen storage leakage are (i) the small size of the H molecule which causes it to diffuse through relatively open structured materials such as composites, and (ii) the phenomenon of Hydrogen Embrittlement (HE) which seriously reduces the strength of metals in extended contact with hydrogen. In order to greatly improve public confidence in the safety of hydrogen fuel, to address the technical issues, and thus facilitate the rapid commercialisation of hydrogen powered road transport, this project will develop a technology that will detect leaks and structural weakening of containment vessels caused by HE. This will prevent catastrophic failure of vessels which can actually occur before even small leaks arise. Particularly, the project goal is to develop novel tangential neutron radiography and acoustic emission (AE) techniques in combination for the reliable and cost effective continuous monitoring of the integrity of hydrogen storage tanks at central depots, service stations and on vehicles i.e. at every point of hydrogen storage along the supply chain from the production plant to the fuel tank on a hydrogen powered vehicle. The novelty of neutron radiography is that it exploits stored hydrogen as a contrast medium for the exposure of tank defects.