Ignition Source
Substandard Electrical Wiring

A hydrogenation experiment was being performed under 60 atm hydrogen, inside a high-pressure reactor cell. The experiment was conducted inside a fume hood and left overnight. The hood caught fire during the night, resulting in fire damage to the fixture, hood, and exhaust duct, as well as water damage to much of the building. Based on the local fire department investigation, the fire started from faulty electrical wiring that was used to provide power for reactor cell heating. The electrical fire ignited solvent that was in a dispensing bottle inside the hood, which subsequently overheated the reactor cell, rupturing the seals. The rupture released hydrogen from the cell and attached supply tank, further fueling the fire. Nobody was injured in the incident, and damages were limited. It took one month to complete repairs.

Incident Date
Nov 19, 2005
  • Ventilation System
  • Glove Box/Fume Hood
  • Electrical Equipment
  • Process Equipment
  • High-Pressure Reactor Cell
Damage and Injuries
When Incident Discovered
Lessons Learned

After the aforementioned incident, a rigid cage was designed to protect the reactor from external conditions, and to protect the contents of the hood and any experimenter from the reactor, in the event of a pressure burst from the reactor cell. Additionally, the experimental setup was redesigned to include only electrical distribution that has been verified to be in compliance with National Electric Code and that is located outside the cage. Further, the experimental setup has been redesigned to include a hydrogen supply line shutoff, so that if the pressure reactor cell integrity is compromised, the hydrogen supply is shut off. The fume hood has been fitted with a hydrogen sensor. Lastly, researchers were reminded that hydrogen experimental setups should be verified by another person, and hydrogen-involving experiments should be carefully monitored.

Hydrogen development work is inherently hazardous, and greater precautions than the norm need to be taken to ensure a safe work environment.