By Richard Mann, Global Product Manager of Fire Protection, PPG Protective and Marine Coatings

As the hydrogen economy booms, safety standards lag.

The hydrogen industry currently relies on existing oil and gas regulations. However, these may not be adequate for hydrogen's unique challenges, particularly concerning hydrogen jet fires.

This standard’s gap has prompted proactive testing and research, such as by the U.K.'s Health and Safety Authority, to determine whether existing oil and gas fire standards suffice for hydrogen or if there is a need for new, specific standards.

Because hydrogen's high-pressure characteristics differ significantly from hydrocarbons', identifying the right protective standards remains a pivotal step toward ensuring protection in this emerging sector.

Fire protection challenges

Hydrogen fires exhibit characteristics distinct from traditional hydrocarbon fires. They burn hotter and faster, often with a nearly invisible flame, due to a higher volumetric energy release.

The diversity in hydrogen storage and transport methods—including cryogenic liquids, cryo-compressed hydrogen, hydrogen/natural gas blends and high-pressure cylinders—adds complexity to fire protection considerations. Ensuring protection across various applications, from fuel-cell vehicles to data centers, requires a focused approach to mitigating risks.

Hydrogen jet fire test results

Benchmarking the performance of passive fire protection (PFP) coatings against hydrogen fires is crucial. It's important to determine whether existing standards for oil and gas fires apply to hydrogen fires, especially in terms of heat flux and the survivability of materials under the extreme conditions of a hydrogen jet fire.

These tests, designed to mimic the thermal and erosive impacts of high-pressure hydrogen leaks that could impinge on adjacent tanks or structures, have been critical in assessing protective coating capabilities. The test team (performed by a leading paint and coatings company and the U.K.'s Health and Safety Authority) completed four tests with pressure and temperature data, video, photographs and infrared camera imagery to document resulting data.

Initial tests on bare steel plates, conducted per the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) jet fire test standard (ISO22899), showed that steel reaches critical temperatures (400°C or 752°F) in less than one minute in hydrogen fires. However, subsequent testing of advanced protective coatings demonstrated the material's resistance to erosive forces. These coatings maintained steel temperatures well below 100 C, or 212 F, effectively reducing heat transfer and mitigating the risk of structural failures. The tests showed the coatings could prevent structural failures and minimize risk by demonstrating the ability to keep temperatures safe during extreme conditions.

Data from the tests support safer industrial environments and serve as a foundational reference for future hydrogen fire protection standards, offering engineers a critical point of comparison for specifications.

Call to action

The industry's lack of specific fire standards for hydrogen often relies on existing oil and gas regulations. However, the industry needs to assess the adequacy of these standards for hydrogen applications and consider developing new, hydrogen-specific standards.

Past testing, collaborative efforts remain essential to evaluate and improve fire protection measures and develop industry-specific standards. Currently, efforts with PPG, ISO, the U.K.'s Fire and Blast Information Group (FABIG) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) are underway. These collective efforts help support the hydrogen sector's realization of its full potential safely and sustainably.

Stakeholders across the sector, including safety engineers, industry experts, nongovernmental organizations and policymakers, are encouraged to collaborate in establishing and maintaining rigorous protection benchmarks. Through pioneering PFP solutions and industry collaboration, we can help ensure a more protected hydrogen future.

Richard Mann is the PPG Global Product Manager of Fire Protection, Protective and Marine Coatings. He has more than 30 years of experience in fires, explosions and cryogenic spill testing standards and safety. PPG offers holistic solutions for fire, explosion and cryogenic protection. To learn more about PPG PITT-CHAR NX coating, visit here