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H2's future and setting fire safety standards

Maintenance, Reliability and Safety

R. MANN, PPG, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

As the world pivots toward a more sustainable future, hydrogen (H2) stands out due to its low-carbon footprint that aligns seamlessly with international climate agreement and corporate net-zero goals. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently committed $7 B to launch seven regional clean H2 hubs nationwide and accelerate the commercial-scale deployment of low-cost, clean H2.1 An uptick of new H2 production and handling projects is projected, and the onset of a booming H2 economy is no longer a matter of “if,” but rather “when.” However, this progression has its challenges, particularly in fire protection. 

Fire protection challenges. Like most emerging technologies, expanding the H2 industry presents numerous issues: fire protection is the most pressing. H2 fires, which exhibit characteristics distinct from traditional hydrocarbons, present unique risks—they burn hotter and faster due to a higher volumetric outflow.

Additionally, the diversity in H2 storage and transport methods—cryogenic liquids, cryo-compressed H2, H2/natural gas blends (typically 25% H2) and high-pressure cylinders [350 bar–700 bar (15,000 psi–10,000 psi)]—adds complexity to fire safety considerations. The industry tends to focus on mitigating risks associated with the widely utilized equipment, such as high-pressure cylinders, to keep applications ranging from fuel cell vehicles to power for data centers.

Insights from H2 jet fire tests. The author’s company recently conducted an initiative to benchmark the performance of its passive fire protection (PFP) coatingsa against H2 fires. The tests aimed to determine if existing oil and gas fire standards could apply to H2 fires, particularly focusing on the heat flux and the survivability of steel and coatings under the intense conditions of a H2 jet fire. In collaboration with the UK's Health and Safety Authority, a H2 jet fire test was commissioned in a high-pressure H2 release facility. These tests were designed to mimic the thermal and erosive impacts of high-pressure H2 leaks that could impinge on adjacent tanks or structures and were critical in assessing protective coating capabilities. The team completed four tests with pressure and temperature data, video, photographs and infrared camera imagery to document and reinforce the resulting data. 

Initial tests on bare steel plates mirrored the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 22899-1 jet fire test standard, revealing that the steel reached critical temperatures [400°C (752°F)] alarmingly fast during H2 fires (< 1 min). Subsequent tests with the company’s coatinga showed the material's resistance to the same erosive forces, maintaining steel temperatures below 100°C (212°F) for the duration of the fire—this is well below critical levels, effectively reducing heat transfer to the substrate. The coating’s ability to keep temperatures at safe levels during extreme conditions can help prevent structural failures and mitigate the risk of catastrophic events.  

This breakthrough has far-reaching implications for the design and maintenance of safer industrial environments. These findings demonstrate that the coatinga meets the standard for performance in high-pressure H2 jet fire scenarios. The data also provides a foundational reference for H2 fire protection standards, offering engineers a critical point of comparison for future specifications.

Setting the standard. The industry is grappling with the lack of specific fire standards for H2, relying instead on existing oil and gas regulations. Questions remain about the adequacy of these standards for H2 applications and whether new, specified standards are needed.

Therefore, the call for comprehensive fire protection standards and technologies to address these hazards remains urgent and essential. Collaborative efforts between the ISO, the UK's Fire and Blast Information Group and the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission are underway to evaluate the adequacy of oil and gas standards for H2 jet fires. Initial test findings suggest that with certain adjustments, the prevailing oil and gas fire protection measures could be a strong starting point for H2 safety protocols, paving the way for industry-specific standards. 

Through pioneering research and a forward-thinking approach to PFP solutions, the paint and coatings industry will provide the safety frameworks that will underpin the future of H2. Whether for corrosion protection, chemical resistance or PFP, the paint and coatings industry has leveraged its capabilities and protective coatings to address the demands of H2 infrastructure.

Stakeholders across the H2 sector—including safety engineers, industry experts, non-government entities and policymakers—must collaborate to establish and uphold rigorous protection benchmarks. Such collective efforts remain key to help ensure that the H2 sector can realize its full potential safely and sustainably.H2T




1 U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), “Biden-Harris administration announces $7 billion for America’s first clean hydrogen hubs, driving clean manufacturing and delivering new economic opportunities nationwide,” October 2023, online: 

About the author

RICHARD MANN is the PPG Global Product Manager of Fire Protection, Protective and Marine Coatings. He has more than 30 yr of experience in fires, explosions and cryogenic spill testing standards and safety.