Large-Scale Hydrogen System Safety Issues

August
,
2019

As hydrogen’s applications grow and develop across many sectors, industrial systems must identify the necessary precautions to be able to safely handle the material.

Some of the biggest challenges to hydrogen as an energy solution are the safety issues and the perceptions of the risks associated with hydrogen systems. Liquefied and gaseous forms of hydrogen have been used since the industrial revolution in various processes, such as ammonia production, chemical processing, and petroleum refining. As technologies evolve to make hydrogen a sustainable energy carrier, hydrogen will emerge in larger scale applications, as envisioned in the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s (DOE) H2@Scale framework (1). Hydrogen’s versatility and strength as an energy carrier allow it to be used directly to power fuel cells or indirectly to store excess energy from renewable sources. Large amounts of energy can be stored in tanks as high-pressure gas, or even larger amounts can be stored as a liquid at low pressure and cryogenic temperature. However, hydrogen is flammable, and any system handling it must be designed to address the relevant safety hazards unique to its material properties.

Research into new methods of hydrogen production, storage, and transportation is ongoing. The codes and standards that govern the safe use of hydrogen must keep pace with evolving technology. For example, standards that cover storage tank designs must account for higher storage pressures, fire codes must consider fire safety issues presented by new applications, and vehicle safety standards and emergency response protocols must address crashworthiness of fuel cell vehicles. This article discusses some of the safety issues that arise as large-scale hydrogen applications become more prevalent.

Author Bios: 

Chris LaFleur, P.E.

Chris LaFleur, P.E., is the program lead for Hydrogen Safety, Codes, and Standards at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, NM (Phone: (505) 844-5425; Email: aclafle@sandia.gov), where she is responsible for the fire risk program activities and conducting research on the fire risks of emerging energy technologies. Before joining Sandia, she worked at General Motors and Parsons Engineering Science. She has represented the U.S. in the development of hydrogen codes and standards for maritime applications and serves as a member of the sprinkler...Read more

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