Hydrogen plays an important role in the transition to a climate-neutral society. As with other energy sources, the use of hydrogen carries risks, although these risks differ in several respects from those associated with other types of energy. It is therefore important to have training and to have a good regulatory framework in place.
Hydrogen is considered to be the key in the transition to a climate-neutral transport and energy system. However, there are risks that need to be taken into account.
Hydrogen is dangerous, mainly because it is highly flammable, yet safe handling is possible in most applications. Furthermore, the gas is undetectable to our senses, as it is invisible, tasteless and odourless. On the other hand, hydrogen is the lightest element in the universe, so it quickly disappears into the atmosphere outdoors. When mixed with air in a confined space, however, it can quickly become flammable. And the gas is not toxic.
“Large amounts of hydrogen have been used safely in the chemical industry for many years, with people in the sector having a great deal of respect for the gas. We know that it has to be handled safely and that the system must be designed and built specifically for hydrogen, not for any other energy source,” says Paul Adams, hydrogen safety specialist at RISE.
Storage poses the greatest risks
The main risks associated with hydrogen are concentrated around its storage, although there are risks in other aspects of the hydrogen technology as well. Hydrogen that is used in the automotive and transport sectors is compressed and stored under extremely high pressure – up to 700 bar. This is in contrast to compressed natural gas, which is stored under a pressure of around 200 bar. It is also possible to cool hydrogen to minus 253°C so that it becomes liquid. Just over 15 years ago, BMW developed a car that was powered by liquid hydrogen, but it was only produced on a small scale.
“Regardless of the method of hydrogen storage, there are risks that have to be managed and minimised. Manufacturers in the transport sector, for example, are aware of this and act accordingly,” says Paul Adams.
He emphasises that safety thinking is essential throughout the entire life cycle of a hydrogen-powered product, from manufacture through use and maintenance to the end of the product’s service life.
“Leak detection technology is also crucial – this has to be developed specifically for hydrogen and must be tested in real-world conditions.”
Hydrogen is a fantastic source of energy, but it is unusual
Training in hydrogen safety
Training is required to minimise the risks associated with hydrogen.
“It is important to understand why hydrogen is so special. Hydrogen is a fantastic source of energy, but it is unusual. Most people know that it is flammable, but their knowledge often ends there,” says Paul Adams.
RISE possesses unique expertise in this area and organises courses in hydrogen safety. RISE can also contribute when it comes to the development of regulations and standards, for example, which requires international cooperation.
“Hydrogen regulations have to be in place and must work in harmony with other regulations. It is important for the regulations to be based on performance requirements rather than normative requirements. Thanks to our expertise, RISE is able to serve as a skills centre for hydrogen safety in Sweden,” says Paul Adams.
“Hydrogen is playing an important role in the transition to a climate-neutral society. Hydrogen safety is the key to the dream of fossil-free hydrogen coming true,” he adds.