Hydrogen Accidents

The prospect of hydrogen as an energy carrier often raises safety question, in part because of its association with the Hindenburg, the German airship whose explosion in 1937 took 36

lives. For years, it was widely believed that the cause of the explosion was ignition of the hydrogen gas used for lifting the ship. In 1997, a NASA investigator Dr. Addison Bain, however, published his surprising finding that the highly combustible varnish treating the fabric on the outside of the vessel most likely caused the tragedy.

The study collected 75 incidents related to hydrogen (Appendix C), excluding the NASA incidents. It found that 30.7% of the incidents resulted in fires such as jet fire, fire ball, etc. Explosion (including with vapour cloud explosion) accounted for 20% of the incidents. Both of fire and explosion accounted for 4%, and the rests of incidents (45.3%) involved hydrogen release without ignition. A report on incidents with hydrogen in aerospace operations studied by [148] involved 96 incidents of releases of hydrogen, both gaseous and cryogenic. This study was performed at the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) facilities. Twenty-six percent of the accidents were caused by work area deficiencies, such as inadequate work conditions during installation or maintenance, or lack of training. Procedure deficiencies accounted for 25% of the mishaps. Design deficiencies accounted for 22% of the events. Planning deficiencies, such as test plans and hazard studies, resulted in 14% of the events. Component malfunctions (accountable to the component) resulted in 8% of the events. Material incompatibility and material failures accounted for 3% of the events. These events were not catastrophic failures, and few events resulted in fires. A summary of the accidents is presented in Appendix C.

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