The potential of hydrogen use in healthcare is huge. Safety, however, remains an issue that IEC conformity assessment can address.
Today hydrogen is most commonly used for industrial purposes in chemical processes and petroleum refining. In the future, it could also play a major role in transportation, energy storage, as well as electricity and heat generation. Could it also be used in the medical field? The answer is yes: hydrogen – and especially green hydrogen – has the potential to generate important changes in hospitals and healthcare settings.
New ways of using hydrogen-based applications in hospitals are currently under scrutiny but further research and development into safety considerations, infrastructure requirements and regulatory aspects are still needed before the full potential of these technologies can be harnessed. There are many examples of how hydrogen could be used in hospitals, some of which are listed below.
Hydrogen fuel cells could become a clean and efficient power source for hospitals. Fuel cells generate electricity and heat by combining hydrogen and oxygen, producing only water vapour as a byproduct. The technology may offer a sustainable and reliable energy solution, thus reducing hospitals’ reliance on traditional energy sources. Additionally it could also reduce the long terms costs of energy.
Investments in the technology to produce green hydrogen are expected to be initially significant but in the longer term, the technology could be beneficial due to lower maintenance costs.
Research and lab applications
Hydrogen could be utilized in various research and laboratory applications, such as gas chromatography, as a carrier gas or a fuel for flame detectors. It could also be used in certain chemical reactions and experiments.
Hydrogen could become an alternative to traditional sterilization methods. Hydrogen peroxide gas plasma sterilization systems are already in use, particularly for delicate and sensitive medical equipment. Hydrogen gas can kill microorganisms and sterilize equipment without leaving residue or toxic byproducts.
Scientists are also exploring hydrogen’s potential therapeutic use in a variety of medical applications, including:
Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects
Hydrogen is believed to have antioxidant properties, meaning it may help reduce oxidative stress in the body, and thus may protect cells from damage. Hydrogen has also shown anti-inflammatory effects.
According to research, hydrogen gas may have neuroprotective effects, which could help with neurological conditions such as strokes, traumatic brain injuries and neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. It may help reduce brain inflammation and neuronal damage.
Studies suggest that hydrogen may help improve outcomes in various cardiovascular diseases, including heart attacks, heart failure and cardiac arrests. It may reduce inflammation and cell death in the heart tissue.
Metabolic and diabetes-related conditions
Hydrogen may help improve insulin sensitivity, reduce oxidative stress associated with diabetes and alleviate complications related to these conditions.
Researchers have also explored the potential of hydrogen in mitigating the side effects of radiation therapy, protecting healthy tissues from radiation-induced damage. In brief, it may enhance the effectiveness of radiotherapy while reducing adverse effects.
The potential therapeutic benefits of hydrogen gas inhalation are being studied. Since it may have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, inhalation therapy using hydrogen gas is currently being explored in clinical trials for conditions like acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), lung injury and other respiratory disorders.
Again, the research results so far seem promising but hydrogen-based therapies are still in the early stages of development and further studies, including clinical trials, are needed to establish its effectiveness and safety in specific medical applications.
While research in the potential use of hydrogen in hospitals and healthcare concentrate on applications in infrastructure and therapy, the safety and reliability aspects, both for medical staff and the patients, must be taken into consideration.
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.
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 organizations – including hospitals – working in an environment that uses hydrogen should get to know what IECEx has to offer.