Energy forecasts and strategies predict a significant increase in the use of hydrogen and hydrogen-based fuels as energy carriers in society.
The energy infrastructure must transition towards sustainable use of conventional hydrocarbons and an increasing share of renewable energy sources in the global energy mix. The variable and intermittent supply of energy from solar and wind points to energy systems based on hydrogen or hydrogen-based fuels as the primary energy carrier. Existing technologies can convert energy from renewable or non-renewable sources into hydrogen, hydrogen can be stored and transported in compressed, liquid or chemical form, and energy converters, such as turbines and fuel cells, can deliver electrical or mechanical energy and heat on demand.
However, the safety-related properties of hydrogen imply that it is inherently difficult to achieve and document the same level of safety for a hydrogen system, compared to a similar system using an established fuel. Widespread deployment of hydrogen technologies in society will require massive investments. This implies commercial and political commitment and involvement, and hence influence on research priorities and decision-making. However, the prospect of severe accidents and increased vulnerability of the energy system represents a significant risk to all stakeholders.
The legacy from a century of accidents and the mixed messages communicated by various stakeholders influence how people perceive hydrogen technologies. The complex interaction between the physical phenomena involved in flow-related accident scenarios; the concepts, models, methods and strength of knowledge in risk assessments; and the numerous factors that influence perception and governance; call for an interdisciplinary approach to science and knowledge creation.