Measurement and Testing
Is Hydrogen Fuel Dangerous?
May 03 2022
One of the biggest challenges faced by hydrogen is its reputation as a ‘dangerous’ fuel. So, does the chemical element deserve its status as a high-risk fuel or is it all hype and hearsay? Read on to find out more!
The safety benefits of hydrogen
Before we get stuck into the risks of hydrogen as a fuel, let’s take a moment to spotlight some of the benefits. According to the US Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, “a number of hydrogen's properties make it safer to handle and use than the fuels commonly used today.” These include the following:
- Hydrogen is a non-toxic element
- Hydrogen is lighter than air and therefore rises quickly, thus increasing dispersion and reducing the risk of accumulation and explosion
Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs)
Unlike electric vehicles (EVs) powered by rechargeable batteries, FCEVs feature onboard hydrogen fuel tanks. Critics maintain the risk of hydrogen leaking out of these tanks, accumulating in the cabin and reacting with oxygen to create an explosion makes FCEVs a dangerous mode of transport.
While TESLA CEO Elon Musk has famously called hydrogen fuel cells “extremely silly” many other auto manufacturers are embracing the technology. Both Hyundai and Toyota have already launched hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, with other auto giants following suit. BMW recently confirmed its engineers are developing a hydrogen fuel cell drivetrain that could offer “long term potential to supplement internal combustion engines, plug-in hybrid systems and battery-electric vehicles.”
As well as the risks associated with carrying onboard hydrogen fuel tanks, it’s worth considering the challenges of bulk hydrogen transport. Sea and road transport are the most popular ways to move hydrogen from A to B though both come with a unique set of risks. As the industry is relatively new, many countries are still in the process of developing rules, regulations and standards for the safe transport of hydrogen.
For example, in Australia the Dangerous Goods Code refers only to the transport of hydrogen fuel cells, not pure hydrogen. Standards Australia is currently developing a new set of technical specifications designed to improve safety when transporting large quantities of the chemical element.
The bottom line on hydrogen as a fuel
Like all fuels, there is risk associated with hydrogen. However, with the right technology and precautions, many experts maintain hydrogen is safer and more eco-friendly than conventional hydrocarbon fuels such as gasoline and diesel.
Despite safety challenges, hydrogen offers enormous potential as a sustainable, climate-friendly fuel. Find out more about the latest industry developments in our complete guide, ‘Everything You Need to Know About Hydrogen Fuel’.
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