Hydrogen Station

Construction site of a hydrogen filling station in the parking lot of the Stop and Shop store in early August in Mansfield.

MANSFIELD — A new filling station for hydrogen-fueled cars will have a number of high-tech safeguards to prevent any fires or explosions, an official for station owner Air Liquide told selectmen.

Ray Bant, northeast business development director for Air Liquide, said the automated station would be closely monitored and be equipped with devices that would “communicate” with customer vehicles to make sure hydrogen gas is dispensed properly.

“We’ll have safeguards on top of safeguards,” Bant told reporters.

The hydrogen filling station would be located next to an existing gasoline outlet at Stop and Shop on Chauncy Street and should open in a month or two, Bant said. The installation, the first in Massachusetts, is one of a dozen such locations planned in New England.

Air Liquide and Stop and Shop came before the board of selectmen Wednesday to request expansion of an existing fuel storage permit. The project received approval from the zoning board of appeals last year and is now nearing completion.

Selectman Jess Aptowitz said he was surprised that the companies had waited so long to request final approval.

“This seems a little after the fact,” he said.

Aptowitz said he wasn’t objecting to the project, but thought it would have been wiser to apply sooner.

Company officials did not offer an explanation, although Bant said many of the processes for regulating and approving hydrogen stations are new.

Fire Chief Neal Boldrighini said he has been working with the applicants for the past year and is satisfied that the station will be safe. He did note, however, that it is located in an area where there have been frequent crashes.

He added that a “deluge system” would soak the station and its surroundings in water should a fire occur.

Bant said numerous measures have been built in to make sure fuel is dispensed safely. No gas would be released into anything but an approved vehicle, he said, and no one would be able to release gas into the air or a container.

Although the station would be unmanned, it would be monitored by cameras on a 24-7 basis. Stop and Shop employees would have access to an emergency shutoff that could be activated instantly in an emergency.

Fueling a hydrogen car would be similar to pulling up to the pump at a conventional filling station, Bant said, with the customer placing a nozzle into a receptacle in the vehicle. Fuel would be stored and dispensed in gaseous form.

Unlike gasoline-powered cars, hydrogen vehicles don’t need spark plugs or other systems to ignite fuel, which is converted directly into electricity. The electricity is then used to power electric motors which transfer power to the wheels.

The only byproduct of hydrogen cars is water vapor.

Currently, Toyota and Honda sell their hydrogen-fuel vehicles only in California. That’s likely to change, however, as fueling stations are established in other states.

Rick Foster can be reached at 508-236-0360.

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