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.

Advertising

the sting Milestone

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

9 climate tipping points pushing Earth to the point of no return

Aviation Safety: Commission adopts new EU Air Safety List

GSMA announces new keynote speakers for 2018 Mobile World Congress

Boom in Artificial Intelligence patents, points to ‘quantum leap’ in tech: UN report

‘Urgent need’ to stop Mali violence with ‘effective’ military response: UN expert

Commission publishes the first report on the issuance of a Eurobond

EU unveils plan to accelerate Capital Markets Union ahead of London’s departure from the bloc

Election 2019: New, Updated seat projection for new Parliament

Here’s how the EU is doing on gender equality

UN spotlights wellbeing of seafarers on International Day

Burning Amazon rainforests: Darting towards the doom of Human Race

UN agency warns conditions around Yemen’s key port city of Hudaydah still ‘very bad’, as staff rush to deliver aid

Can North Korea and the U.S. strike a nuclear deal?

A Europe that Protects: Commission calls for decisive action on security priorities

WEF Davos 2016 LIVE: “It is the implementation, Stupid!”, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaueble points the finger to Greece from Davos

The power of partnership: joining forces to fight financial crime

A question of trust: the UN political chief working behind the scenes to prevent tomorrow’s wars

UN experts warn Assange arrest exposes him to risk of serious human rights violations

Human rights breaches in Guinea Conakry and Madagascar

UN rights experts call on Russia to release Ukrainian film-maker whose life is in ‘imminent danger’

Human rights ‘core to sustainable development’: deputy UN chief

Brexit: No deal without marginalizing the hard Tory Eurosceptic MPs

These scientists are using sound waves to filter plastic fibres from washing machine wastewater

UN chief and senior officials show solidarity with DR Congo during three-day visit

How a possible EU budget deficit affects the migration crisis

How curiosity and globalization are driving a new approach to travel

The UK is on a record-breaking run of coal-free power

How smarter machines can make us smarter humans

European Youth Forum on Summit on Jobs and Growth

Here are 3 alternative visions for the future of work

Lithuania needs to get rid of the victim mentality

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

Hostages to a rampant banking system

These countries are all building brand-new cities

Could robot leaders do better than our current politicians?

Coronavirus containment is the key, as infections tick up: Tedros

A biodiversity scientist explains the problem with our neat lawns

Parliament and Council agree drastic cuts to plastic pollution of environment

Venezuela: MEPs demand free presidential elections and an end to repression

Make this the year of ‘transformative solutions’ to avert disastrous climate change: UN Deputy Chief

Destabilizing Lebanon after burning Syria; plotting putsch at home: King and Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia

Syria: UN food relief agency ‘doing everything we can’ to reach Idlib civilians

How speaking ‘parentese’ to your child could make them a faster learner

‘Stronger’ effort must be made to cement peace deal for South Sudanese women and girls: UN Women chief

Unemployment and exclusion brings EU cities to boiling point

Large parts of the world are growing more fragile. Here are 5 steps to reverse course

Don’t take African generosity towards refugees for granted, says UN refugee chief

The reason the world showed limited empathy to the Orlando victims

We are ‘burning up our future’, UN’s Bachelet tells Human Rights Council

Actions not words: what was promised at the UN’s landmark climate summit?

Benefits of rural migration effect often overlooked, new UN report suggests

Coronavirus: UN health agency moves fast to tackle ‘infodemic’; Guterres warns against stigmatization

These are 2018’s stats of the year

A reality check on inclusive innovation

Questions and Answers on issues about the digital copyright directive

ECB describes in detail how it exploits the poor

Security Council urged to help spare Syrians from ‘devastation’

The EU Spring Summit set to challenge austerity

EU-wide rules for safety of drones approved by European Parliament

Youth Internationalization: part of everyday life in JADE

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