Developed by Sandia National Laboratories and several industry partners, the fuel cell mobile light (H2LT) offers a cleaner, quieter alternative to diesel-powered units. As seen here, the system has been used by airport construction personnel at San Francisco International Airport and in other applications. | Photo by Dino Vournas.

There are about 100,000 diesel-powered mobile lighting towers in the United States, illuminating everything from airport runways and construction sites to movie sets and award show red carpets. However, these towers emit carbon pollution and other toxins that are unhealthy to breathe and for the environment. In addition, users would rather not deal with the odors and noise of diesel-based equipment.

An Energy Department-supported project is addressing these problems by designing, building, and testing a mobile lighting tower powered by hydrogen fuel cell technology, which is quiet and emits nothing but water while generating electricity.

The Energy Department, Boeing, Multiquip, Altergy Systems, and other private sector partners provided the initial funding for the hydrogen fuel cell mobile lighting tower (H2LT) technology, which was developed at Sandia National Laboratories. Instead of a traditional diesel-powered light tower, H2LT uses hydrogen gas (stored in the system), polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cell technology, and energy efficient lamps to illuminate work areas while discharging little to no emissions.  

DOE-funded efforts that reduced the cost of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies are now beginning to pay off with new and exciting applications like the H2LT, helping to avoid pollution and educating the public.

Researchers conducted field tests of H2LT prototypes over the span of about four years to determine how well the technology performed in several functions and weather conditions.  

The system was used to provide lighting for:

  • Construction of the red carpet areas at the Oscar Awards, Golden Globe Awards , and the Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles, California.
  • International press operations during the launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida;
  • Road construction and repairs by the California Department of Transportation near Lake Tahoe and Sacramento;
  • Bridge construction by the Connecticut Department of Transportation on Interstate 95 in New Haven; and
  • Runway and aircraft maintenance at San Francisco International Airport.

During the field tests, data was collected on system performance metrics including energy efficiency, and greenhouse gas reduction.  The resulting data indicated H2LT proved to be very durable and efficient despite being exposed to extreme heat, humidity, and cold. Better yet, work crews reported low noise levels and emissions while using H2LT.  

The field tests are guiding efforts to improve the design of H2LT and ultimately bring it to the market, where it can serve as a sustainable source of lighting throughout the nation.

Learn more about the Energy Department’s work related to hydrogen and fuel cell technologies.

Sunita Satyapal
Sunita Satyapal is the Director of EERE's Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office.
more by this author