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Hydrogen Properties for Energy Research (HYPER) Lab Ian Richardson

My Story

Ian Richardson assembling a cryostat in the lab.
Ian Richardson assembling a cryostat in the lab.

Originally from Port Orchard, Washington, I grew up playing sports, camping, and four wheeling. From a young age I was curious about how things worked and how different chemicals and liquids mixed together. This led to me constantly taking things apart and raiding the kitchen and mixing anything I could find.  This inevitably led to a career in engineering.

I have been a Coug fan for as long as I can remember. My dad also graduated from WSU so crimson and grey and disappointing football games has always been a part of my life.  When the time came to apply to colleges, the decision was easy. . . Go Cougs!

I began doing research for the HYPER lab in the fall of 2010 as a senior mechanical engineering student. With no idea what I wanted to do after graduating, I made a relatively seamless transition to graduate school and continued my research in the HYPER lab as a PhD student in the Material Science and Engineering Program. As a member of the HYPER lab my research projects have varied from developing the equation of state for deuterium to designing an award winning transportable hydrogen fueling station to developing a system to characterize rocket propellants which led to me receiving a NASA Space Technology Research Fellowship.  I can’t wait to see what’s in store next.


My Research

NASA's eCryo tank at the Marshall Space Flight Center.
NASA’s eCryo tank at the Marshall Space Flight Center.

I began working in the HYPER lab as a senior mechanical engineering student. My first research project was developing a thermodynamic model to predict the properties of the hydrogen isotope, deuterium. After spending a few months conducting a literature review and compiling data, I spent the summer of 2011 in Boulder, CO at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).  While at NIST I worked for the leading developer of equations of state, Eric Lemmon. After 3 short months my equation was well on its way to becoming the next standard property prediction model for deuterium.  This work was published in the Journal of Physical and Chemical Reference Data. Although the equation of state project strengthened my understanding of thermodynamics, I knew I wanted a more hands on project. Eventually, I was given the opportunity to retrofit an existing densimeter, which utilizes Archimedes’ principle to measure the density of a fluid, for cryogenic applications. By mounting the existing Rubotherm densimeter to a vacuum chamber and providing a thermal link to a cryocooler, this system can conduct density and sorption measurements at temperature below 20 K and pressure up to 4000 psi.  The retrofit of this instrument led to me receiving a 2014 NASA Space Technology Research Fellowship to characterize hydrogen-helium mixtures. The objective of this fellowship is to experimentally validate and improve existing models currently in use by NASA to model the interactions of rocket propellants in storage tanks in space. In December of 2013, Jake Leachman approached me and asked if I would be interested in leading a team of students in the 2014 Hydrogen Student Design Contest.  The contest was to design a transportable hydrogen fueling station to expedite the hydrogen fueling infrastructure required to support the rollout of fuel cell electric vehicles coming to the US.  It sounded like a great opportunity and fun challenge; however I significantly underestimated the amount of time it would take. After assembling a team of undergraduate and graduate students in backgrounds ranging from economics to engineering, we began the design process.  Our design, which utilizes liquid hydrogen delivery and fits entirely within a 40’ shipping container for a fraction of the cost of current stations, won the 2014 conference.  We were flown down to Long Beach, CA to present our design at the 2014 Alternative Clean Technologies Expo.  Our award winning design received press early on appearing in newspaper and magazine articles and has been submitted to the International Journal of Hydrogen Energy for publication.  Currently we are looking for investors to develop a prototype to establish proof-of-concept before mass production.

Washington State University