Proving the safety case for hydrogen

Jorg Aarnes's picture
Jorg Aarnes, Global Lead - Low Carbon Solutions, DNV GL
Comments: 0

More than anything, the scale of the future hydrogen society will be determined by success in managing infrastructure, safety, and perceptions. The proportion of oil and gas companies expecting to invest in hydrogen has more than doubled in the past 12 months according to New Directions, Complex Choices, DNV GL’s outlook for the oil and gas industry in 2020. Governments are also exploring hydrogen by supporting pilot projects for its safe use in existing gas networks and in the home, particularly in the UK and the Netherlands. Stakeholders globally are watching the findings.

As plans materialize for hydrogen to be piped through neighbourhoods and into people’s homes, adoption of the decarbonized gas as an energy carrier will require all stakeholders to make the safety case – both real and in the minds of the public.

DNV GL is a partner in the H21 project to test the distribution of hydrogen in the UK’s existing natural gas network, as well as the Hy4Heat programme to study the use of hydrogen for heat in UK homes and businesses. Much of the safety testing takes place at DNV GL’s Spadeadam Testing and Research site on three specially constructed houses on ‘HyStreet’. Our findings show that converting existing gas networks to hydrogen is technically and economically feasible. The next step will be to ensure public acceptance of hydrogen in gas networks and the home, which presents a much greater task than with other applications such as hydrogen in shipping or industrial processes.

This raises many questions, such as should hydrogen burn with colour, similar to the artificial blue flame of natural gas, in order to reassure users? If so, how will the addition of flame colourants affect safety? What purity of hydrogen should be used? What would happen in the case of a hydrogen leak under or close to housing? It is answering such safety and perception questions, and many more, that will ultimately enable hydrogen adoption for heat in homes and businesses – a use case that could significantly decarbonize the energy supply in countries that currently rely on natural gas for heating.

Fortunately, pilot projects are going well, including outside of our testing facilities. DNV GL is working with network operator Stedin on the Power2Gas project in the Netherlands to show that homes can be heated safely and efficiently with hydrogen. Apartments in a residential block in Rotterdam are today being heated with 100% hydrogen, replacing natural gas in an existing pipeline for the first time in the country.