Clemson Professor Develops Hydrogen-Dispensing Hose That Repairs Its Own Cracks

Dr. Marek Urban, a materials scientist, and his research group at Clemson University, a Sullivan Foundation partner school, have developed a self-repairing hose to dispense hydrogen as part of an effort to diversify the country’s fuel supply in the face of increasingly dire warnings about climate change.

Hoses that are used to pump hydrogen must withstand high pressure and are prone to cracking when exposed to high and low temperatures and the normal wear and tear of everyday use. The hose’s inner layer is critical, because that is where the damage occurs, Urban said.

The hose’s inner layer is made out of a self-healable copolymer matrix with Innegra fibers—a composite that heals itself like skin when it cracks.

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A more durable hose for pumping hydrogen could help lower the cost of sustainable fuel for buses, trucks and heavy equipment. The only byproducts from vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells are heat and water, with no greenhouse gas emissions.

Urban has been developing self-healing materials for more than 20 years. He has considered applications ranging from paint that repairs its own scratches to military vehicles that patch their own bullet holes and self-repairable pet toys. He discovered the hose project while searching for additional uses.

Dr. Urban looks down the middle of a sample of his team’s self-repairing hose.

“The idea came from the need for this type of application and combining our technology at Clemson with something society needs,” said Urban, Clemson’s J.E. Sirrine Foundation Endowed Chair in Advanced Polymer Fiber-Based Materials.

Urban is now conducting his research with financial backing from the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.

He and his team have used a tabletop robot to repeatedly bend the hose they have developed. Urban said they have shown the hose can withstand up to 10,000 damage-repair cycles under temperatures as high as 70° Celsius and as low as -40° Celsius.

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The most recent version of the hose is undergoing additional testing at Sandia National Laboratories, Savannah River National Laboratory and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Urban said. He expects the hose to prove it can stand up to 25,000 cycles by the end of the year.

Hydrogen dispenser hoses now in use tend to develop cracks after 1,000 cycles.

The next step will be to work with a manufacturer to make the new hose at a larger scale.

Urban has previously received funding for self-repairing materials from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense. He has published his research findings in leading journals, including Science and Nature.

“Dr. Urban’s research into hydrogen hoses is a testament to his leadership in the field of materials science and engineering and serves as an excellent example of how basic research leads to real-world application,” said Kyle Brinkman, chair of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

“This work not only has the potential to lead to a more sustainable fuel supply but also helps inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers,” Brinkman added.

This article has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on the Clemson University website.

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