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  • Hydrogen - social reception - safe like hydrogen

    When the first steam-powered vehicles appeared on the streets of Great Britain in the 19th century, a speed limit of 3 km/h per hour was introduced and each vehicle was to be preceded by a man with a red flag or a lantern. This is hard to believe today, when the maximum speed limit in a city is 50 km/h and ... hardly anyone obeys it. The introduction of hydrogen as an energy carrier seems to be less of a revolution than the introduction of the first automobiles. After all, dozens of vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells are already on the roads in Poland, and hydrogen has been used in industry for decades. So how can we talk about hydrogen?

    While the 'Polish Hydrogen Strategy' recently adopted by the government very laconically refers to the issue of social dialogue required to create a hydrogen economy, this need is quite extensively described in the 'Sectoral Agreement' signed under the auspices of the Ministry of Climate and Environment by over a hundred entities involved in the development of hydrogen technologies in Poland. The agreement provides for, among other things, public opinion polls, public campaigns, as well as workshops, training and fairs. As with any novelty, hydrogen technology can give rise to public doubts. Are they justified? Of course, hydrogen is a flammable gas, just like many other gases we deal with every day - propane, butane, natural gas or petrol vapour. There are more than 3 million passenger cars running on LPG in Poland, and since the end of 2013 their drivers have been able to refuel their vehicles themselves. As with LPG, hydrogen-powered vehicles are adequately protected against tank leakage and possible uncontrolled ignition. What's more, hydrogen, which is 14 times lighter than air, evaporates quickly and upwards, reducing the risk of accidental ignition, unlike petrol vapour for example, which is heavier than air and accumulates near the ground.

    When using hydrogen, however, safety is essential, just as with other flammable gases. Of course, contact with fire sources must be prevented, and if hydrogen is used in rooms or confined spaces, appropriate sensors must be used.


    Interestingly, researchers at the University of Miami tested the behaviour of the gas when the tank was penetrated by live ammunition. It turned out that the hydrogen escaped faster than it was possible to build up the pressure to burst the tank. During the tests, it was proven that hydrogen causes many times less damage than shooting through a tank of petrol, because the flame on combustion appears above the gas outlet. Importantly, hydrogen disperses in the air 3-4 times faster than other flammable gases, so the risk of explosion is lower than, for example, petrol vapour.

    Transporting hydrogen does not require the development of new technologies. Already now, hydrogen is transported, as with other flammable gases, in appropriately protected tankers. Moreover, after appropriate upgrading of gas pipelines, hydrogen can be transmitted as an admixture to natural gas.

    The fastest place where "a Smith" will be able to come into contact with hydrogen in its pure form will be fuel filling stations. PKN Orlen already operates several such stations in its network in Germany. All stations equipped with hydrogen refuelling systems are adequately protected against uncontrolled gas leakage and have ventilation systems. The opening of the first publicly accessible hydrogen filling stations in Poland is planned for the near future; until now, hydrogen cars registered in Poland have to fill up with fuel from mobile tankers or abroad.

    Fortunately, there is nothing to indicate that refuelling with hydrogen requires a red flag.