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Developing Codes and Standards for a Hydrogen Energy Future

by Karen Hall

In the United States and worldwide, there is a growing interest in using hydrogen energy technologies. Hydrogen offers many opportunities to meet our growing need for energy with minimal harm to the environment. But first, let’s talk a bit about what hydrogen is, and what it is not.

Hydrogen is not an energy source – it is an energy carrier. When people talk about the “hydrogen economy,” they are referring to a future scenario where hydrogen, along with electricity, is used to deliver quality power where and when it is needed. Like electricity, hydrogen must be produced from another energy feedstock. Most industrial hydrogen today is produced by reforming fossil fuels, which are rich in hydrogen. Electrolysis, the splitting of water into hydrogen and oxygen, is another process for producing hydrogen. However hydrogen is created, energy is used. Much of the electricity in the United States is produced from fossil fuels — such as burning coal — or from nuclear energy. Renewable energy such as wind, photovoltaic, and hydroelectric power plays a small but growing role in the production of power. Producing hydrogen from electrolysis powered by renewable energy results in a carbon-free energy that can be used in a variety of applications. Incorporating carbon-sequestration techniques into more conventional methods of hydrogen production will significantly reduce carbon emissions associated with production. In any case, the resulting hydrogen is clean at the point of use, enabling growing energy consumption without increasing harmful emissions. The true value of a “hydrogen economy” is the ability to have a diverse range of sources, allowing us to generate, move, and use energy where and when we want it.
Hydrogen also has the potential to be the “common denominator” that allows large-scale production of a single fuel that can be used in stationary, transportation, and portable power applications.

Hydrogen energy technologies include fuel cells, reciprocating internal combustion engines, turbines, electrolyzers, and other technologies that use or produce hydrogen. Hydrogen’s unique properties enable more efficient and environmentally benign application of conventional technologies as well as enabling advanced emerging fuel cell technologies.

Where We Stand Today

Hydrogen is a well-known industrial chemical, the properties of which are among the most documented in science. Hydrogen is safely used on a daily basis in hundreds of industries, in direct proximity to communities. The safe production and storage of hydrogen are proven commercial technologies. The commercial availability of hydrogen as a fuel will drive the applications and variety of configurations of these technologies even further.

Hydrogen energy technologies are commercially available today in niche applications, such as space propulsion, power systems, and industrial applications where their unique benefits bring special value. However, using these technologies in early products employing hydrogen as an energy carrier requires economic support to make them commercially viable and affordable.

As with all fuels, including gasoline, hydrogen can be used safely if its physical and thermal properties are understood and if appropriate codes, standards, and guidelines are followed.

For hydrogen energy systems to achieve widespread commercialization, codes, standards and regulations must be put in place to allow the systems to be installed or operated in the intended environment, such as residential and commercial buildings and garages, onboard vehicles, and other places where these systems will one day operate. This process, to be successful, involves consensus among experts in technology, safety, and integration. As these systems may be used worldwide, the process must include national input and international collaboration.

The Next Steps

Cost is the most often-quoted barrier to the large-scale commercialization of new technologies. This is certainly the case with fuel cells, which convert hydrogen or hydrogen-rich fuels to electricity. They are being explored by leading industries worldwide for use in stationary power, transportation, and portable power applications. The personal computer, cellular telephones, and the calculator demonstrated that the cost of new high-tech gadgets comes down as manufacturing techniques are honed, and markets for the technology grow. In addition, fuel cells have unique advantages over conventional systems that provide high value for niche applications. Thus it is not unreasonable to expect cost reductions. Interestingly, this is likely to occur through the need for reliable portable power to replace bulky batteries, such as those found in personal computers, cellular telephones, and calculators. Industry experts see portable power applications for hydrogen fuel cells as a likely pathway to increase production and reduce costs of fuel cell technology in general.

Government Priorities

The primary drivers in the United States today for moving toward a hydrogen energy future are:

• National energy security;
• Environmental stewardship; and
• Economic prosperity.

Distributed energy resources, such as turbines, advanced gensets, and fuel cells, provide opportunities to meet increased power needs without increased transmission infrastructure. These systems can operate independently of the grid. When they are operated on hydrogen or hydrogen-blended fuels, significant reductions in urban air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions will be realized. The hydrogen-powered car also offers the possibility for transportation free from emissions and greenhouse gases. In many ways, hydrogen offers a strategic opportunity to meet increasing U.S. energy needs in a highly efficient way without increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

A transition to hydrogen energy systems will facilitate economicgrowth by reducing our dependence on oil from volatile regions, our foreign trade imbalance, and the effects of oil price swings, while at the same time increasing domestic economic activity.

The United States is well positioned to transition from oil and gas as primary energy carriers to hydrogen. Hydrogen will then be the principal energy carrier, along with electricity, that will be used in all sectors of society and generated from all available feedstocks.

Coordination Efforts for Standardization

The need for a broader array of hydrogen codes and standards for commercial applications is being addressed by a number of qualified organizations. The National Hydrogen Association, with support from the U.S. Department of Energy and industry, is working on many of these efforts, including participation in related national and international working group efforts on hydrogen safety. In addition, the NHA provides a forum for gaining expert consensus on codes and standards activities through participation in NHA Codes and Standards Workshops, publication of articles in the Hydrogen Safety Report, and technical presentations at hydrogen energy meetings.

The NHA has a diverse group of members, including energy companies, industrial gas suppliers, hydrogen and fuel cell component manufacturers, automotive manufacturers, national laboratories, and many others. Over 25 percent of NHA membership consists of international or multinational organizations. All are dedicated to commercializing hydrogen energy systems. The development of codes and standards removes significant barriers to commercialization. As hydrogen continues to move toward commercialization, the National Hydrogen Association’s objective is to continue the process of identifying and developing national and international codes and standards necessary for international trade and local permitting.

A growing number of organizations are developing codes and standards for hydrogen energy systems, which may include fuel cells, containers, connectors, refueling stations, safety, and infrastructure. Many of these efforts have hydrogen-specific requirements. The NHA assists standards development organizations by providing hydrogen safety expertise, and assists interested parties worldwide in taking part in the development of consensus codes and standards to enable the widespread commercialization of hydrogen energy systems. The National Hydrogen Codes and Standards Coordinating Committee facilitates interaction between the organizations to speed information transfer and reduce duplication of effort.

NHA, along with several other organizations, assisted the National HCSCC with an effort to create a living database of hydrogen codes and standards for the United States that we call “the matrix,” which has status and contact information for each effort. The data is sorted by application, and is therefore a useful tool in identifying the codes and standards relevant for a particular hydrogen project. The HCSCC hopes that this matrix will eventually include all known codes and standards activities relevant to each application shown on the matrix. It will include a short description of the document (to help the user determine if it applies), status of the effort, how to order the document once published, and whom to contact to get involved or to get more information.

After national standards are developed, they are often used in the development of international standards. Therefore, national standards should be viewed as precursors to international standard development. Once national standards are developed, it is worth evaluating the effectiveness and breadth of their application. //

Copyright 2004, ASTM International

Karen Hall is the vice president of technical operations for the National Hydrogen Association. She facilitates the coordination of hydrogen codes and standards activities among industry, government, and standards development organizations.