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Japanese Collaboration Promises to Put Sandia Hydrogen Program on Global Track

A new hydrogen research initiative based in Japan will leverage Department of Energy (DOE)-funded hydrogen research at...

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A new hydrogen research initiative based in Japan will leverage Department of Energy (DOE)-funded hydrogen research at Sandia National Laboratories’ California site and will likely become the first research effort to be rolled into a broader laboratory research umbrella aimed at increasing the laboratories’ hydrogen partnerships domestically and abroad.

Sandia’s Brian Somerday is playing a lead role with the International Institute for Carbon-Neutral Energy Research (I2CNER, pronounced “ICE-ner”), one of six research institutes that comprise the World Premier International Research Center Initiative (WPI) established by the Japanese minister of Education, Culture, Science, and Technology.

WPI provides support for research and development projects and encourages international collaboration among leading researchers. It is designed to encourage the development of research and development centers that attract leading scientists from around the world and advance high-caliber work.

Somerday serves as lead principal investigator for I2CNER’s hydrogen structural materials research area. For Sandia, I2CNER represents a concrete opportunity to engage the international community on hydrogen-related research even more ambitiously than it has in the past.

“Though Sandia’s hydrogen program has interacted with non-U.S. collaborators previously to address individual technical activities and information sharing, leadership in the I2CNER initiative provides an opportunity to coordinate with international experts to address big, complex problems,” said Daniel Dedrick, manager of Sandia’s hydrogen and combustion technology group.

One of the primary goals of the WPI, Somerday said, is to change the research university environment in Japan by fostering more direct collaborations with non-Japanese entities. Consequently, I2CNER – though based at Kyushu University in Japan – is unique in that its director is Professor Petros Sofronis of the University of Illinois, a longtime collaborator with Sandia. Sofronis has most recently been conducting hydrogen embrittlement research and development at the University of Illinois, funded by the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE).

In addition, Somerday has already developed a number of research contacts in Japan and is planning on attending an I2CNER program review there in June. He and Dedrick are preparing to welcome Japanese researchers to Sandia’s California site as part of the I2CNER collaborative process.

I2CNER’s research goals, Somerday said, strongly overlap with Sandia’s interests. The institute’s technical areas include (in addition to the structural materials area that Somerday leads) hydrogen production, fuel cells, thermophysical properties, hydrogen storage materials and carbon capture and storage.

In the meantime, Dedrick is working with EERE to develop the Research, Engineering and Applications Center for Hydrogen (REACH) at Sandia’s California site, a project that would house I2CNER and other specific hydrogen research activities.

REACH, when it comes to fruition, will include three primary components. One will be to perform as an international research and development center for hydrogen, an objective supported by DOE since global collaborations are key to solving difficult problems in hydrogen. Secondly, REACH will feature a materials thrust, with a focus on new structural materials and predictive simulation. Finally, REACH will focus on engineering and applications, such as the award-winning fuel cell mobile lighting technology.

In the wake of the recently-completed DOE Metal Hydrides Center of Excellence led by Sandia, the new REACH effort exemplifies continued hydrogen science and technology leadership at Sandia. Somerday’s work with I2CNER dovetails perfectly with the long-term REACH vision, Dedrick pointed out.

“Our first goal with REACH is to have physical space within Sandia/California’s open campus, and we envision that REACH and I2CNER will work together within that space, such as hosting I2CNER researchers, co-organizing workshops on future trends, and other activities,” said Dedrick. Eventually, he hopes that REACH’s longer-term program development efforts will pay off and lead to new facilities on the Livermore Valley Open Campus (.pdf).

“Fortunately, we have a good network of collaborators and potential funding sources already identified, with some of them even knocking on our doors ready to go down the research path with us,” he said. “So this is a great opportunity to develop those relationships even more and turn ideas into real programs.”