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

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

the European 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

UN chief welcomes power-sharing deal between Sudanese military and opposition

Four revolutionary technologies that are now obsolete

The West unites against Mali desert rebels

Young people all over the world come together to demand paid good quality internships

Migrants and refugees face higher risk of developing ill-health, says UN report on displaced people in Europe

Millions at risk if Syria’s war moves to last redoubt of Idlib, warns senior aid official

SMEs are driving job growth, but need higher investment in skills, innovation and tech to boost wages and productivity

‘Still time’ to stop a ‘bloody battle’ for Libya’s capital, insists Guterres

Zuckerberg, a paella, and the mighty EU questionnaires that would stop Whatsapp acquisition by Facebook?

EUREKA @ European Business Summit 2014: A European patent system can help European businesses lead industrial research and innovation on a global scale

Why CEOs need to become activists in sustainability

Commission launches new edition of the Cultural and Creative Cities Monitor 2019

Human rights breaches in Hong Kong, Russia and at the US-Mexican border

Stricter rules and tougher sanctions for market manipulation and financial fraud

MEPs strengthen EU financial watchdogs

Nearly 900 children released by north-east Nigeria armed group

You might soon be travelling without a passport – this is how

Fighting for minds of youth in Latvia

GSMA Mobile 360: Connecting Cities, Connecting Lives, Connecting Europe

New York City has a plan to fight fast fashion waste. Here’s how it works

5 droughts that changed human history

Second Facebook-Cambridge Analytica hearing: impact on privacy, voting and trust

Regional competitiveness and growth: a Gordian knot for Europe

Working together to end the AIDS-HIV pandemic

Korea should improve the quality of employment for older workers

CLIMATE CHANGE FOCUS: Cows, coffee and sustainable farming

Why impoverishment and social exclusion grow in the EU; the affluent north also suffers

EU and New Zealand launch trade negotiations

EU leads the torn away South Sudan to a new bloody civil war

Brexit: PM May must hush Boris Johnson to unlock the negotiations

Genocide threat for Myanmar’s Rohingya greater than ever, investigators warn Human Rights Council

Don’t dismiss start-ups founded by millennials. This is how they succeed

#UNGA NEWS ROUNDUP: Funding plea for UNRWA, Burkina Faso and CAR updates, Guterres praises climate change ‘pioneer’ Chirac

‘Dire consequences’ for a million children in the Middle East, North Africa, as funding dwindles

This woman changed the world of work – and you’ve probably never heard of her

The time for cities to get smart is now

Tools of asset development: Renewable Energy Projects case

ITU Telecom World 2017: exploring smart digital transformation

Only the Americans are unhappy with the ceasefire agreement in eastern Ukraine

This is where teachers are paid the most

5 ways to be a better humanitarian

EU-US trade agreement talks to be affected by American bugs

3 lessons from running an AI-powered start-up in Africa

Key economic forum in Russia: New technology a ‘vector of hope’ but also ‘a source of fear’ says Guterres

Changing for the change: Medicine in Industry 4.0

What just happened? 5 themes from the COP24 climate talks in Poland

EU budget 2019 approved: focus on the young, innovation and migration

The European Commission and EU consumer authorities publish final assessment of dialogue with Volkswagen

Amazon indigenous groups want to create a nature sanctuary the size of Mexico

Palm Oil: With Malaysia cracking down on production, what’s the alternative?

Anti-vaccers: does the empty can rattle the most?

Finnish Presidency outlines priorities to EP committees

In Japan, if you’re 76 you’re biologically 65

Afghanistan: UN condemns blasts that leave 8 dead at cricket stadium

Digital Single Market: Cheaper calls to other EU countries as of 15 May

More than one million sexually transmitted infections occur every day: WHO

How ducks are helping Bangladeshi farmers cope with cyclones

Yemen: Major UN aid boost for ‘up to 14 million’ as country risks becoming a land of ‘living ghosts’

Why the euro may rise with the dollar even at lower interest rates

Half the population of Yemen at risk of famine: UN emergency relief chief

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