Hydrogen Safety

Everyone who has spoken about hydrogen has had the following experience. About half way through the presentation, a hand will go up and someone says "Isn't hydrogen very dangerous; look what happened to the Hindenburg". The Hindenburg air ship was made with 1930 materials and technology. It was designed to fly with helium as the lifting gas. The United States had the only large supply of helium. Because of the political situation in Europe and the mistrust of the Nazi leadership, the United States, by and act of congress, would not sell helium to the operators of the Hindenburg. They filled the ship with hydrogen and added some safety features. It flew for two years without mishap. During its service life, it came to the United States and South America several times. It was very luxurious and comfortable. It was equipped with a smoking room, even after it was converted to hydrogen. 176

On May 6, 1938, in an attempt to land at Lakehurst New Jersey, The Hindenburg burst into flames and was destroyed. There were about 60 passengers and crew. Half were killed and half lived. Investigation at the time indicated a high probability that sabotage was the cause of the fire. Recently NASA investigators attempted to reconstruct how the ship was built. They found that the skin

174 http://www.fischer-tropsch.org/

175 http://www.btimes.co.za/corpcomp/s/sasol.htm

176 http://www.ciderpressonline.com/ZLA/greatzeps/german/Hindenburg.htm

contained nitrocellulose containing powdered aluminum as a sealant against leakage. Nitrocellulose is a very good sealant but it is extremely flammable. It is the major ingredient in smokeless gunpowder. The NASA investigators believe that hydrogen did not cause the disaster. The primary cause was nitrocellulose-impregnated skin. 177

Hydrogen and natural gas are both flammable and both can be dangerous if mishandled. From the standpoint of safety, the difference between the two is not great. Both can be used safely with the proper understanding of their properties. We use natural gas routinely through the world and can use hydrogen in the same manner. On balance, hydrogen is probably somewhat safer than natural gas. It diffuses faster making the build up of flammable concentration more difficult. Natural gas can produce toxic carbon monoxide when it burns, hydrogen cannot.

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