Hydrogen is one of the European Union’s big bets. Deployed successfully, it can play a significant role in our efforts to decarbonise and mitigate climate change, while generating growth and creating high-quality jobs at the same time. The Hydrogen Council has stated that 18% of the world’s energy demand could be me by hydrogen by 2050. No wonder: it’s clean, and it’s plentiful.
Yet hydrogen’s potential could be impeded by concerns about its safety. When people with little knowledge of hydrogen are asked about its use as a source of energy, they are likely to cite tragedies like the Hindenburg or Challenger explosion.
Scientists and engineers will, however, tell us that when hydrogen is used properly, it is safe. It is no more explosive than many other fuels; it is less volatile than gasoline, for instance, and the auto-ignition temperatures of hydrogen and natural gas are very similar. Both have auto-ignition temperatures much higher than that of gasoline vapour. Indeed, with an automatic ignition temperature around 500ºC versus around 230ºC for gasoline, hydrogen has a higher octane, which allows the engine to run at higher compression ratios.
But if the public has concerns over safety, this will not matter. Public sentiment, understandably, drives the actions of politicians and regulators. With many new or less experienced players now entering the hydrogen ecosystem, we must ensure that their knowledge and understanding of the safety protocols governing hydrogen are first-rate. This will help to ensure safe use, avoid accidents, and protect the long-term viability of hydrogen.
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