Hydrogen power is here to stay. How do we convince the public that it’s safe?

Hydrogen 2019

(Darren Halstead, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Bart Kolodziejczyk, Research Fellow, Monash University & Wee-Liat Ong, Associate Professor, Zhejiang University


A decade ago, hydrogen was heralded as an emerging clean energy source. But despite extensive promotion and governmental support from world leaders, including former US President Barack Obama, the use of hydrogen as an alternative energy source is not yet ubiquitous. This delay in adoption has largely been due to technology readiness and its associated high cost.

Technological progress

Hydrogen-based technology was not mature in 2008, and needed about more time to undergo further efficiency improvements and cost reductions. During the past decade, significant financial resources have been spent on hydrogen energy research and development globally, allowing hydrogen to make a spectacular comeback. This time, it’s here to stay.

Global alliances

The growing environmental pollution and global governance initiatives, such as the 2015 Paris Agreement, support the case for adopting hydrogen as a clean and viable replacement for fossil fuels in transport, energy storage and power-to-gas applications. However, the transition to a hydrogen-based society will not be easy. It requires the development of a completely new infrastructure with consolidated action by various stakeholders, from equipment manufacturers and technology integrators to energy companies and government agencies.

On this front, the Hydrogen Council was formed at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2017 in Davos to accelerate the scaling up of hydrogen technology and facilitate the societal adoption of hydrogen. Initial founders of the Hydrogen Council include many large multinational corporations, notably 3M, Air Liquide, Alstom, Audi, BMW, Hyundai, Toyota and Shell.

Dangerous or safe?

Despite consolidated efforts by several leading global companies, the adoption of hydrogen remains difficult. One major reason is the public perception of hydrogen safety. An anonymous social media survey that asked two related questions and garnered 483 responses showed mixed public views of hydrogen as a safe energy source.

Only 49.5% of respondents believed that hydrogen is generally safe, while 31.4% viewed hydrogen as generally dangerous. Among those who believed hydrogen is safe, about 9.1% regarded it as very safe, while of those who doubted its safety, 4.1% thought it was very dangerous. The survey drives home the message that more work is needed to change the public perspective of hydrogen.

Dangerous?

The view that “hydrogen is dangerous” is most likely influenced by certain historic accidents, including the infamous Hindenburg disaster. In 1937, a hydrogen-filled German passenger airship caught fire and was destroyed as it attempted to dock in New Jersey. Of the 97 people on board, 36 died.

The disaster was the subject of spectacular newsreel coverage, photographs and eyewitness accounts, and it effectively ended the era of the airship. The cause of the disaster remains a moot point. Several hypotheses have been put forward, including one claiming a static spark ignited hydrogen which caused the explosion.

A more contemporary catastrophe is the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger launch. A NASA space shuttle disintegrated after take-off, killing all seven people on board. The launch was broadcast live with footage replayed worldwide in subsequent news reports. Although investigations revealed that failed O-ring seals were the main culprit and that the presence of liquid oxygen contributed to the explosion, the sight of the Challenger disintegrating mid-air cemented the danger of harnessing hydrogen in millions of minds around the globe.

Safe?

The public perceives hydrogen as highly flammable and explosive. Although this is true, hydrogen is safer than most commonly used fuels. For instance, hydrogen needs a higher minimum concentration than most common fuels to burn. Measured by percentage volume in air, hydrogen requires 4% in air to be flammable, compared to 0.6% for diesel fuel, 1.4% for gasoline, 1.2% for propane, 3.3% for ethanol and 5% for methane.

In terms of auto-igniting temperature, methane and hydrogen are again winners, as in the absence of a flame or spark, they only start burning at 580°C and 550°C respectively. These auto-igniting temperatures are higher than those of diesel, gasoline, propane, and ethanol, which are 210°C, 260°C, 480°C, and 365°C.

Surprisingly, 73.2% of participants in the social media survey gave a positive response to the second question about “willingness to using hydrogen-powered modes of transportation”. This result seems to contradict answers to the first question, which found that only 49.5% support hydrogen as a safe energy source.

The intriguing result comes from the initial “dangerous” group, with about half willing to cast away their fears to use hydrogen-powered transport. The exact reason for this discrepancy is unknown and should be further examined. Perhaps small-scale hydrogen-based implementations are not deemed as dangerous. Also, prior knowledge that government agencies will only allow safe modes of public transport could have mitigated this fear.

The hydrogen generation market is expected to reach $199.1 billion by 2023 according to market research by Markets and Markets, while the global market for hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles will reach about 583,360 units by 2030 in Asia Pacific Europe and North America, Frost & Sullivan forecasts. This rapidly growing hydrogen industry will further shape the public perception of hydrogen safety. It could be an interesting exercise to perform the above survey annually to evaluate the changing public perception of hydrogen safety with increasing market penetration.

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

International community agrees on a road map for resolving the tax challenges arising from digitalisation of the economy

‘Crimes against humanity,’ ‘war crimes’ and risk of new ethnic violence in DR Congo, warn UN experts

Statement by OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría on the outcome of COP 25

‘Maintain calm’ and ‘exercise patience’ UN envoy urges, as Nigeria heads to polls

The refugee crisis seen through the eyes of a young doctor from Turkey

Cleantech innovation is being stifled. Here’s how to unlock it

Basel III rules relaxed: Banks got it all but become more prone to crisis

These are the world’s 10 most innovative economies

4 myths about corruption

How to reimagine our cities as hubs for biodiversity, conservation and climate resilience

OECD and European Commission join forces to further support structural reforms in European countries

3 ways to protect LGBTI rights across the world

Commission disburses €14 billion under SURE to nine Member States

Protecting refugees in Europe: UNHCR calls for a ‘year of change’

‘Bicycle Kingdom’ makes a comeback, as China seeks solutions to tackle air pollution crisis

GSMA Announces First Keynote Speakers for 2019 “MWC Los Angeles, in Partnership with CTIA”

Palliative Care: A Gap to fill in healthcare service

5G will redefine entire business models. Here’s how

‘Catastrophic’ healthcare costs put mothers and newborns at risk

The Eurogroup protects Germany and blames others

How to talk about climate change: 5 tips from the front lines

Global Cooperation for Local Action: Fighting antimicrobial resistance

The future of crypto-assets, from opportunities to policy implications

This is what different countries are doing to stop coronavirus from spreading

Future-proofing the European banking market – removing the obstacles to exit

Why trade wars have no winners

Ηealth’s foundation is falling apart: what can we do about it?

European Commission and European Investment Fund launch €75 million BlueInvest Fund

Trade war or not New York bankers will have it their way

How building renovations can speed up the electric vehicle revolution

European Youth Capital 2018 : Cascais

Central African Republic: Guterres says UN mission committed to protecting civilians, helping stabilize country, as violence flares

Turkey needs to step up investment in renewables to curb emissions

Commissioner for Crisis Management in Kabul: EU steps up humanitarian assistance with €32 million

Senior UN children’s advocate says they ‘should never be targeted by violence’

A Sting Exclusive, the European Commissioner for Energy Günther Oettinger writes for the Sting on “EU Industry: a major energizer”

Chart of the day: These are the cities where the World Cup threatens productivity the most

Wash your hands, but keep your mind clean

Human rights breaches in Bangladesh, Cuba and Vietnam

New UN-supported farming app is cream of crop in tackling Sahel pest

Privatisation and public health: a question of Human Rights

Can this billion-dollar initiative save the world’s tropical forests?

European Investment Bank to borrow €70 billion in 2013

‘These are very dark times for Yemen’: senior UN official on air strike mass casualties

Why and how did ISIS and Muslim fundamentalism gain momentum this year?

Brexit: when the hubris of one man can set the UK, the EU and the entire world on fire

Warmongers ready to chew what is left of social protection spending

State aid: Commission refers United Kingdom to European Court for failure to fully recover illegal tax exemption aid of up to around €100 million in Gibraltar

Youth Forum calls on Parliament to ease entry into Europe for young people

Better sanitation for India is in the pipeline

Why transparency in drug pricing is more complicated than it seems

COVID-19: faster authorisation for vaccines adapted to variants

As inequality grows, the UN fights for a fairer world

DiscoverEU: 20,000 more young people will explore Europe in 2020

‘Undersea gardeners’ are restoring Jamaica’s lost coral reefs

The global response to the coronavirus pandemic must not be undermined by bribery

Banks must take bold action to fight climate change. This is how they can do it

COVID-19 threatens the developing world’s small businesses. This is how to save them

Chronic illnesses: UN stands up to stop 41 million avoidable deaths per year

Mediterranean migrant drownings should spur greater action by European countries, urge UN agencies

More Stings?

Comments

  1. It’s not a matter of safety. It’s a matter of efficiency. As long as H2 shows an overall loss of 50% in its life cycle – compare to less than 20% in batteries – there is no way H2 replacing battery technology.

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s