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Hydrogen Properties for Energy Research (HYPER) Lab Uncategorized

The $10B per year challenge facing Washington State

If you could solve one problem affecting the lives of everyone in the Pacific Northwest, what would it be?

What would you be willing to give up to solve it?

WSU is working to solve many Grand Challenges. The one I’m telling you about today is a $10B per year problem that’s making us sick — the importing and use of fossil fuels in Washington State.

So here is my Grand Challenge:

Sustaining the Pacific Northwest via locally produced, clean, fuel.

More specifically, reducing the importation of carbon-based fossil fuels into Washington State to less than half of the status quo by 2050, when I’m eligible to retire.


The 7,310,300 residents of Washington State own 7,872,783 vehicles that nearly entirely burn imported fossil fuels. 46% of Washington State’s primary energy needs come from petroleum resulting in nearly half of the 94.4 Million Metric Tons of greenhouse gas emissions in our state in 2013. If those emissions were solid CO2 piled on top of CenturyLink field, it would be a pile 7.5 miles tall, every year. It’s a giant scar on our state — one that funnels $$$ billions out of our state to import those fuels, the emissions of which ultimately disrupt the lifespans of us and our ecosystems.

Breakdown the big three fossil fuel imports — 141.5 million barrels of oil, 308 billion cubic feet of natural gas, and 3.5 million short tons of coal — assume $60/barrel of oil, $3.00/thousand cubic feet of natural gas, $45/ton of coal, and that’s $8.5 billion lost to oil, 0.924 billion to natural gas, and $157.5 million to coal. That’s nearly $10 billion every year that would stay here in our state if we had domestic alternatives. Not to mention the reduction in medical bills from the reduced pollution.

Moreover, an alternative like hydrogen is a primary feedstock for many chemical processes, including fertilizer, that we also import.

What will we replace Fossils with? — Electrofuels – primarily Hydrogen

More than 3/4 of Washington State’s electricity generation is from renewable sources in the Columbia basin, making Washington the 2nd largest renewable energy producer in the United States. We produce so much electricity that over half is distributed elsewhere via the Western Interconnect. Here’s a breakdown by power generation type for the Bonneville Power Administration:

Note the monthly variation in Hydro Generated associated with spring run-off, how we vary the output of our single nuclear power plant (Thermal Generated) to adjust for the variable load, and that more power is sent to California (Net Interchange) than we use (Net Load). We see something interesting when we take a closer look at the Wind Generated. In the below right figure you see the increase in installed wind generation capacity for BPA, a nice exponential increase that hit a wall in 2012. The lower left figure, a map of Current and Proposed Wind Projects in the Columbia Gorge, shows that the limit in generation capacity wasn’t due to a lack of sites. The limit is our ability to control the daily fluctuations in renewable power supply.

At any given moment the BPA is working to regulate the power on the grid, to keep the voltage from getting too high (light bulbs blow out) or too low (brown outs). The BPA has real time outputs of this balancing act. Here is a shot from 2016 I use in talks. You can see two points where we exceeded our limit to decrease (dec) and increase (inc) energy on the grid, which causes problems. Although there are many ways to improve incs and decs, they start becoming expensive and difficult to manage. Here’s a chart from BPA showing the difference between expected wind power and the actual. Differences between the two shows when balancing reserved had to be kicked in.

So to continue increasing the amount of wind we need to increase the amount of dispatch-able loads that can take that wind power. NREL has done the studies. Hydrogen producing electrolyzers take water and this excess electricity and are great for variable supplies such as wind-power. This storable energy form can then be used for cars, injected into the natural gas system, or stored seasonally for power production during other times of the year.

How will our vehicles change?

Washington state is making excellent strides on all electric vehicles. This requires extensive infrastructure investments to install charging stations and to upgrade our neighborhood transformers to handle the increased supply. But the investment will pay off big time! Not only will we need less fuel imports, we’ll be able to more easily balance the grid if these chargers are smart.

But like most things, this won’t solve all of our problems. I’ve written several articles about the tradeoffs between electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Most see this as an either or. But when you stand back and look at where the technology is headed, you quickly realize that battery and fuel cell technologies are synergistic and what we all want is a hybrid. Read my piece on “Toyota versus Tesla” for more. In short, the optimal is a hybrid fuel-cell battery-electric vehicle with a 40 mile plug-in battery range (easily done with rooftop solar in the Northwest or a standard plug-in outlet overnight) and a 300 mile hydrogen fuel-cell backup (perfect for getting out and running on the highways with only 3-5 minutes to fully recharge).

Sound good? Here’s how to help make it happen.

WSU-Pullman is the flagship institution in the heart of the Columbia River Basin, the 2nd largest river in North America. Our Grand Challenge is to steward the resources of this region to sustain the vitality of the Pacific Northwest.

The HYdrogen Properties for Energy Research (HYPER) lab at WSU is poised to address this challenge by being the only university cryogenic hydrogen lab in the US. We are developing solutions to our hydrogen refueling challenge as exemplified by the following video:


With two top finishes in the International Hydrogen Student Design Contest , our experience developing hydrogen fuel cell vehicles like the Genii liquid hydrogen drone, alumni who have created startup companies, we uniquely have the experience to lead this energy transition for our region.

Seriously. But we need your help to do it. Here’s the link to donate. And here are many other ways to help.


  1. Thanks to Ken Dragoon of Flink Energy Consulting for helpful comments on BPA.



Social Thermodynamics: Bouncy House Physics

“Honey, how long before they get hurt?” — Wikimedia Commons

All the parents have been there. You arrive at a birthday party and discover the hosts rented a trampoline or bouncy house. You’re both excited and concerned at the same time. You know it will be fun for your child, but also a big safety risk… I myself have a fake front tooth in the place of one claimed by a trampoline in the second grade.

Before sending little Johnny or Jenny in, you take a quick scan to see how many other kids are on the bouncy surface, how fast they are moving, how empathic the big ones are to the little ones, and how many other parents are on the sides keeping things in check. You inherently know when the conditions cause the likelihood of an injury to go through the roof. This is a phase change problem. Contrary to our Social Thermodynamics: Creativity post, we’re trying to prevent phase change here. Let’s break it down by the Gibb’s energy:

g = u + Pv – Ts

where u is values, P is stress, v is inverse density, T is resources, and s is empathy. If the change (g2-g1) in Gibb’s energy is negative (the value for g is less after something happens then before) phase change will spontaneously occur. In other words, to prevent phase change, the goal is to make g2 greater than g1 to prevent things from going crazy. Let’s go term by term:

u (values): the reason the kids go in to begin with is that you want them to have fun with friends. But before you send them off you add another value layer by whispering in their ear, “Be very careful  to stay safe and not hurt little Debra.” A number of parents put in the work to stick around the sides offering constant safety reminders to keep the values high.

P (stress): The constant reminders often come with an ultimatum: “if you can’t keep from bumping into Debra you’re going to have to come out.” The kids feel it too. If the bumping gets to hard, they don’t want to get hurt either, “anybody cries and the ‘rents will shut ‘er down.” The more tight the packing, the higher the stress.

v (inverse density): Remember this is inverse density, the lower the density, the more space between people. The lower the number in the bouncy house, the higher the space between people, and the lower the chance that things change for the worse. What’s also interesting is we can estimate a physical volume or area where a phase change starts to occur relative to the energetics of the bouncy surface. My estimate is that for a bunch of 3-5 year olds, the threshold area is about 2-3 square meters per child. But this depends on the energetics of the situation.

T (resources): Don’t send them in full of sugar and caffeine! The key resource being used here is ATP. Just like in classic thermodynamics, temperature is a measure of the average speed of particles. The faster they’re moving the higher the likelihood of injury. If things start to get dicey, slow it down to prevent phase change. Things will eventually slow down as ATP is burned up. One of the best ways to slow it down quickly? Get your kid talking to you on the outside (Qout).

s (empathy): Math says try to reduce the connections in order to inhibit phase change. Intuition says the opposite. A minimum amount of empathy is required commensurate with the values needed for safety. Blindfolding the children before sending them in would be a disaster. A minimum awareness of others, speeds, direction, and intent is required. But it’s easy to saturate this ability with three or more kids. We’ll come back to this with the topic of natural group/cohort sizing. In short, lock eyes and bounce with one -fun, more though and your in for a blow.

Remember, all of these properties are related for a situation, and we still need a surface of state that shows how these change relative to each other. It’s very possibly to increase Gibb’s energy through the other properties even though entropy/empathy increased. In this case I’d guess that the fastest way to prevent phase change is reducing the number of kids. I stood outside a bouncy house for awhile one afternoon trying to predict how many more kids could get added before the system spontaneously changed. Parents were always aware enough to step in and dampen the change before it happened. Many of the kids felt the pressure too and removed themselves.

Trampolines and bouncy houses are fun. They give us the ability to defy gravity and entropy for a short time. Another way to think about this — they give us new ways and abilities of interacting with the world and our friends and thereby increases our connections. I never thought about fun as a quality measure for empathy generation.

The HYPER lab tube fitting guide

This post summarizes the use of Swagelok® Tube Fittings, which are used extensively in the HYPER lab. If you’re already familiar with tube fittings, you may want to skip to the best practices at the bottom. Most of this guide is pulled directly from “An Installer’s Pocket Guide for Swagelok® Tube Fittings.” If you haven’t read this already, you should! We have several physical copies around the lab.


What is a tube fitting?

Swagelok® Tube Fittings are also referred to as Swagelok Fittings, Tube Fittings, or Compression Fittings. You’ll see similar fittings at the local hardware store, but beware – they aren’t the same! While both the hardware store variety of compression fitting, and the Swagelok fitting operate by swaging, or forming the tube around hard metal ferrules, the Swagelok fitting is a robust, double ferrule design whereas the hardware store variety is almost always a single ferrule design. In the above picture, you see a female nut with the two hard metal ferrules installed correctly to a male fitting body (in this case, an NPT adapter). The bends in the tubing around the ferrules signify the seal locations between the ferrules and the tubing.

First Installation: Swaging

Before Installing for the first time, ensure that the tubing and fitting are in good order. The tubing should be clean and free of scratches at the ends. The tubing should already be bent into the desired shape, and you should check  for sizing to ensure proper fit (this insures we don’t waste nuts and ferrules by swaging onto the tubing before measuring). If you cut the tubing, be sure to clean the tubing with a burr-removal tool. The tubing end should be completely round and clear of burrs or dents.

The above steps point you through the process of swaging the nut ferrule onto a fitting. Be aware! While most of our fittings require 1-1/4 turns to swage, smaller fittings may require 3/4 turn. Make sure your tubing is all the way into the fitting body – you will not get a good seal if you don’t properly seat the tubing.

After your first installation (swaging the ferrules on the tubing) you can ensure proper tightening by using the gauging tool. HYPER lab has a gauging tool that can test our most commonly used fitting sizes. Try to insert the correct side of the gauging tool into the gap between the nut and fitting body. If you are able to insert the gauging tool into the gap, the fitting must be tightened further. If you cannot, the fitting is properly tightened. BEWARE: The gauging tool only works on the initial installation of the fitting. If you remove the tubing from the fitting and reseal, you are not guaranteed proper tightening with the gauging tool.

Reinstallation: When you have to disconnect and reconnect lines.

Before you disconnect a tube fitting, ensure that the system is depressurized. It is not recommended that you depressurize any system by loosening any fitting, including tubing fittings. Doing so could potentially shoot fittings and/or tubing across the room. Mark the fitting as indicated in the instructions below before taking the fitting apart.


Again, as stated above, the gauging tool will not help you to determine if a fitting you have resealed is correctly tightened.

Best Practices

The following list are best practices developed by members of the lab for working with tubing fittings.

Marking fittings

Always mark fittings before tightening (or loosening) the fittings. It will ensure that fittings are properly tightened, and will prevent over-tightening. This will increase the lifespan of our fittings and tubing. Clean fittings after finishing so your markings don’t get in the way for next time.

Hard to reach fittings

If the fitting body you’re trying to attach tubing to is in a hard to reach area, use a different fitting body to swage the tubing, then remove the tube from the fitting and install in location. In this case, you will not be able to use markings to help you reseal the fitting – tighten the fitting until hand tight, then tighten 1/4 turn more with wrenches.

Correct tubing thicknesses

The recommended tubing thickness for using fractional tubing fittings for stainless steel and copper tubing are given below. For gas service, it is recommended that you use a tubing thickness outside the shaded areas in the charts.

Stainless Steel Tubing Sizing Chart for Tube Fittings
Stainless Steel Tubing Sizing Chart for Tube Fittings
Copper Tubing Sizing Chart for Tube Fittings

For other materials, or metric recommendations, please consult “An Installer’s Pocket Guide for Swagelok® Tube Fittings.”

Doing what Hilsch couldn’t

He didn’t have access to modern day computers. A lot of research is in progress and you may wonder how they work. Good news! You can build one in your home with some hardware store parts. Here is an instructable on How to build a Vortex tube in your own home!

My undergraduate research project is on the computational modeling of the vortex tube. The long term goal of determining the most important geometric parameters. It is also important to determine how each of these factors into various fluids, specifically hydrogen. With patented technology the plan is to use the vortex tube in a modified Claude cycle to reduce the cost of liquefying hydrogen.

Working away on CFD modeling is a learning process with many nuances to every set of software. Comsol is not without exceptions. As a result of compounding the experience using Comsol Multiphysics, I am finally able to start getting results. This is to accomplish the goal of modeling the vortex tube to show the effects of different geometry in the vortex tube.

Phase 1 is to model a real life vortex tube to relate computational results to physical ones. In the HYPER lab we currently have a small commercial vortex tube from Vortec this model is based on.0000149_vortex-tubes-106-2-h

Elijah will run an experiment with CHEF to learn more about the molecular separation mechanism with this device. There are high hopes this will unveil more understanding about the vortex tube by utilizing the orthohydrogen/parahydrogen spin flip properties. The CFD modeling has yielded some impressive visuals to assist in the understanding of how this device operates.

Currently I have been able to reach a solution with a cold mass fraction of 0.043 and 0.069 (0.043 shown). The first Image is the velocity streamlines with the temperature in kelvin represented by the color scheme. While the second image represents the streamline velocities in m/s on the color scale.

Temperature (K)

Temperature Profile

Velocity (m/s)

Velocity Profile

By varying the Hot outlet boundary condition pressure as is commonly done, we are not required to create a new mesh. This will assist in modeling through several iterations in a shorter duration. The limiting factor in these simulations is needing to refine the specific region between the cold and hot streams where they are traveling opposite directions. Given a little trial and error with refining the mesh in that error we should have more results soon!

Lab Mission & Values


Maximize the utility of hydrogenic substances in energy applications.


  1. Make a significant contribution
  2. Innovation through diversity
  3. Work hard, play hard
  4. Good research is safe research
  5. The lab’s success is your success

Buyer vs. Builder

Buyer from Aerospace Company A walks into a room of potential suppliers and says, “The only thing I care about is how cheap you can meet spec.”

Builder from Aerospace Company B walks in later and says, “We want to be able to rely on you and you to rely on us. What’s the price you need to be able to provide reliable parts that keep us competitive for the long haul?”

Being the builder is about much more than buying parts, managing a budget, and building components. You’re building confidence in your suppliers, sponsors, and team-members that can’t be bought. You’re building relationships that are a win for you, a win for them, and a win for the broader system.

Oh yes, and there’s nothing that snowballs team moral and momentum better than real physical progress towards completing a big build.

Conductive Heat Flow Analysis For Vortex Tube Experiment

Recent data from the vortex tube experiment showed a larger temperature differential than expected. Because the vortex tube operates at hydrogen input stream temperatures of about 120K, the goal is to isolate it from external sources of heat by means of a vacuum chamber. This allows any observed temperature differential to be solely attributable to the vortex tube effect as described by the kinetic impinging model or solid core rotational model. The basic experimental setup is depicted in the simple sketch below:

Vacuum Chamber

Our initial assessment of the potential sources of the temperature discrepancy included the conductive heat-leak through the copper inlet and outlet pipes that connect to the vortex tube through the bulkhead in the vacuum chamber. We assumed one-dimensional heat transfer through a copper pipe and modeled this heat-leak with the following equations:

Derivation of Variables

Here, Q is heat flow, k is the thermal conductivity (units of W/(m*K), which varies based on temperature), A is the cross-sectional area of the copper pipe, ΔT is the temperature change, and ΔX is the length of the pipe. Because the coefficient of thermal conductivity varies with temperature, we used a vertical lookup function within EES (Engineering Equation Solver, the software we use to build these models) where k is referenced to a table of conductivity in one Kelvin increments. To quantify the rate of heat transfer, we integrated k with respect to T to calculate power (heat flow) per unit area which was expressed in watts on the right side of the equation, as shown below.

Original 1 dimensional

However, the approaches shown above neglected the different materials (i.e. brass, copper, aluminum) that comprised the pipe fittings, nor did they account for the varying geometry of said pipe fittings. To further develop the model, we viewed the system as a “thermal circuit”, similar to what is depicted below.

Analog Equation

This approach allows for the addition of “thermal resistors” in parallel and series, much like when applying Ohm’s law to an electrical circuit. In taking this approach, we can model each different pipe, fitting, and component as an individual thermal resistor and sum them up to find an equivalent “thermal resistance” for the system. Once the equivalent thermal resistance for the system is found, the computation of the heat transfer rate depends only on the temperature difference.

As the next step, we plan on determining the thermal resistance of the vortex tube piping by constructing a full model of the system in EES based on this approach.




Numerical Modeling

We are at the point where we are beginning to model our system. We are doing this with a software package called EES (Engineering Equation Solver). As you would expect this is excellent for complex systems of equations, but it does so much more! When it comes to thermodynamics it is a great engineering tool. It will look up any property we need to find without the need for those pesky old tables, it will track units so that mistakes are much harder to make and above all it allows us to treat this model like a living being. We will be able to treat this jumble of numbers and letters as a living organic being, forever adapting to better itself.

You may wonder why we are doing this? What is so great about throwing a bunch of equations together and make a million assumptions to get something that kind of resembles what temperatures we want? Well we do this for more than just predicting outcomes. It is a design tool, with it we can determine relative efficiency of different designs and relate efficiency and costs easily with each other.


Extruder Nozzle Relocation

The Diagnostic Twin Screw Extruder has been operating for more than a year with a VCR gasket that doubles as a nozzle constriction. The gasket is virtually insulated from the cold barrel because it is located at the end of an inch long stainless steel tube. This means that any heat formed from reshaping solid as it moves through the gasket increases the local temperature. Likewise, heater power added after the nozzle has been seen to increase nozzle temperature and greatly affect extrusion conditions. Today the extruder is being assembled with the constricting gasket embedded in the actively cooled nozzle body bolted to the thermal bus bar. This should make extrusion conditions less susceptible to viscous heating and heat added downstream in the circulation loop.


Washington State University