A One-Stop Shop for the Safe Handling of Hydrogen

With climate change on everyone’s mind, the demand for clean and sustainable energy sources is increasing rapidly, and hydrogen, which has been used by industry for decades, is expected to be part of the green energy mix. A new IEC Conformity Assessment scheme ensures it is handled safely.

hydrogen tanks
Hydrogen needs to be stored safely

report by consultancy firm Astute Analytica estimates that the global hydrogen market may see a rise in revenue from USD 206,6 billion in 2022 to USD 761,3 billion by 2040 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7,5% during the period 2023-2040. Projections show a CAGR of 7,1% in volume over the same period.

Why such rapid growth? 

Hydrogen has been known for more than 200 years and in the 20th century has been used by many industry sectors including chemicals, textile fibre manufacturing, glass, metallurgy and electronics. It is also used as fuel for rocket launchers.

The need to drastically reduce the emission of carbon dioxide (CO2 ) and turn to renewable sources of energy and electrification to tackle climate change has led to a renewed and growing interest in hydrogen, and especially green hydrogen, which has a huge potential as an environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels. It only emits water when burned and can be transported when liquefied, via pipelines, trucks and ships.

Industry applications are plentiful

Hydrogen is part of the research and development programmes of several industry sectors, which are aiming to be greener. These include: 

  • Public transportation: cities including Chicago, Vancouver, London and Beijing have included hydrogen-powered buses in their fleet. Germany launched its first hydrogen-powered train in 2022, and Great Britain, France, Italy, Japan, South Korea and the United States are expected to follow suit before 2030.
  • Automobile: major auto manufacturers are developing hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.
  • Logistics: Many companies are now using hydrogen fuel cells to power their trucks, forklifts and other vehicles in their warehouses and distribution services.
  • Power generation: Hydrogen has been used as a coolant for power plant generators. Now, electrolysis can turn electrical energy into hydrogen which can then be stored and used, for example, in transportation. In addition, hospitals, data centres and any sector where continuous uptime is critical are now increasingly turning to hydrogen to supply uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems.

Green hydrogen is the carbon-free way forward

Hydrogen can be produced from a range of resources, including fossil fuels, nuclear energy, biomass and renewable energies. The only carbon neutral hydrogen is green hydrogen, generated from solar or wind energy sources. Currently, it only makes about 0,1% of the overall hydrogen production but this could change if and when the cost of renewable energy decreases.

In April 2021, the European Union (EU) passed the EU Climate Law which sets a legally binding target for all its member states of net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050. To achieve this, the EU has set up intermediary targets, among which a reduction of GHG emissions by at least 55% compared to 1990 levels by 2030.

New Zealand is another country that has a net zero GHG emissions by 2050 goal passed into law. As early as 2002, the Climate Change Response Act targeted GHG emissions, and in 2019 it passed an amendment, the Zero Carbon Act, that sets new targets: reduction of domestic emissions of GHG (except biogenic methane) to zero by 2050 and reduction of biogenic methane to 24-27% below 2017 levels by 2050 (10% by 2030). Two countries in the world have declared themselves carbon negative: Suriname and Bhutan. While this is encouraging, many countries still need to act on GHG emissions. Some have proposed legislation, some have made declarations of intent but haven’t acted yet on them.

Whatever the goals set by different countries, it is a safe bet that green hydrogen will play an important part in reducing global emissions. But it needs to be handled with care as it is an explosive gas.

Safety challenges 

Detection of hydrogen leaks is difficult because the gas tends to disperse upwards. Hydrogen burns more easily than petrol and a single spark of static electricity can generate a fire, which may not be immediately noticeable because hydrogen flames are also invisible, resulting in an explosion that can result in human casualties and structural damages nearby.

Handled by skilled professionals in industrial facilities with restricted public access and the appropriate equipment, the risks are limited. The new hydrogen economy envisages much wider applications for hydrogen, meaning many more people, not all versed in the operating of hazardous areas and much greater risks of accidents.

IECEx certification is the solution

This is where an organization like IECEx, the IEC System for Certification to Standards Relating to Equipment for Use in Explosive Atmospheres, can bring its expertise to the hydrogen economy. With more than 25 years of experience in testing and certifying electrical and non-electrical equipment, repair and overhaul facilities as well as personnel competence associated with use of equipment in explosive (Ex) atmospheres, including areas where hydrogen may be present, it was evident that extending its coverage to other elements associated with the hydrogen economy was the right thing to do to ensure the safety and security of equipment and workers operating in an hydrogen environment.

The IECEx programme provides the certification of equipment, components and systems, associated with the production, distribution, dispensing and use of hydrogen, including gaseous hydrogen dispensing equipment, components and systems for light and heavy-duty vehicles.

Working safely in a hydrogen environment

In addition to material assets, IECEx has also extended its IECEx certification of personnel competence scheme for assessing and certifying individuals working in potentially hazardous areas, to address hydrogen safety. For this purpose, IECEx has now added one unit of competence – Unit Ex 011 – addressing basic knowledge of the safety of hydrogen systems.

In conclusion, since safety is an essential issue for anyone working in explosive atmospheres, companies and organizing working in an environment that uses hydrogen should get to know what IECEx has to offer.

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