Hydrogen and fuel cell company Plug Power has developed a first-of-its-kind robotic H2 fuelling station.

The immediate goal of the robotic fuelling station is to increase the ease and efficiency of fuelling H2-powered vehicles in warehouse settings, where every second amounts to more than $1,000 in annual cost impact for medium to large sites.

Plug Power worked in partnership with the Center for Automation Technologies & Systems at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

The trio completed a pilot feasibility study for the robotic fuelling station, which demonstrated the ability of the system to independently interconnect the fuel cell to the fuelling station without human intervention.

Alongside Plug Power’s engineering team, RPI Center for Automation Technologies & Systems students developed the technology for the robotic fuelling station pilot study, including the computer vision, sensors, robotic manipulation of the fuelling nozzle, and remote controlling mechanisms.

Today, the technology can retrofit existing GenFuel sites supporting the more than 20,000 GenDrive fuel cells in the field,” said Dustan Skidmore, Vice-President of Engineering for Plug Power. “In the future, the technology can be used in on-road fleet vehicles, autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs), and self-driving passenger cars.”

“The Plug Power partnership is a great success story for RPI Center for Automation Technologies & Systems, as we look to develop projects that will become an important part of the business’ long-term strategy,” said Stephen Rock, PhD, Senior Research Scientist at RPI. “Our students gain real-world exposure to companies that they would not otherwise get in the classroom and get to work on cutting-edge technologies.”

The research and development team will use a $2m grant recently awarded by the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy to develop a commercially viable autonomous H2 fuelling station, with additional technology development including data exchange, interconnection interfaces, and robotic equipment that meets the safety standards of commercial deployment in unstructured environments.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory will leverage research experience in H2 station performance evaluation and component and system reliability to conduct preliminary testing for on-road fuelling. The learnings from this work will then be used to develop a demonstration on-road dispenser.