Like any substance, hydrogen is safe when the proper precautions are followed. Hydrogen is routinely transported on roads and highways by truck across North America, both as a compressed gas and in liquid form. Most people do not realize this because there are rarely any incidents.
In Canada, large industrial gas suppliers meet their customers’ need for hydrogen in a range of volumes and purities. In the U.S. there are 1,600 miles of hydrogen pipeline and approximately 10 million metric tonnes of hydrogen produced annually. The supply of hydrogen is integral to the production of petroleum fuels, the fertilizer and chemicals industry, and metals; hydrogen production, storage and distribution comprises a well-established infrastructure.
Photo Credit: FIBA Canning Inc.
Hydrogen as a transport fuel
Hydrogen is used safely as a transportation fuel. There are more than 215 hydrogen fueling stations for automobiles and buses are in operation around the world. There are over 50 hydrogen fueling stations in the U.S., half of which are for retail, self-service use, supporting more than 2,000 passenger fuel cell-electric vehicles, mostly built by Honda, Hyundai and Toyota.
These vehicles and fueling stations have had to comply with rigorous public safety standards. Many experts in the field believe hydrogen is safer than other conventional fuels because it is non-toxic and dissipates so quickly when vented.
Hydrogen codes and standards
Established codes and standards as well as training materials for first responders ensure that hydrogen is managed safely in accordance with proper procedures. Notwithstanding all these positive indicators, any new introduction of Hydrail in North America will need to be developed in close consultation with accredited safety authorities and under strict regulatory oversight.
Only when a proposed Hydrail system has received all required approvals and all contingency plans are in place will it be permitted to launch. Indeed, this would apply to any alternative fuel use in railway applications, including natural gas, for example. It is important to note that liquid hydrogen is already approved for shipment by rail as a good (as distinct from an onboard fuel source) in approved tank cars in the U.S. and Canada.
In Germany, the ALSTOM Coradia iLint trains are undergoing evaluation against stringent performance standards. Railways in Europe are primarily for moving people (as opposed to freight, which is the case in North America), so safety is taken very seriously. Inspectors in Germany have already certified the iLint’s battery safety, the pressure tank system and the fuel cell for the high-speed test phases underway.