Severity
Incident
Leak
Yes
Ignition
Yes
Ignition Source
Electrostatic discharge caused by diaphragm motion

Hydrogen was stored in a plant in a 42 ½ ft diameter sphere made of 3/16 inch steel. The sphere was partitioned into two hemispheres by a neoprene diaphragm attached around the equator. Hydrogen was stored under the diaphragm, while the upper hemisphere contained air. An explosion-proof fan was situated in the upper portion of the sphere in order to provide a slight positive pressure on the top of the diaphragm.

When the plant was shut down for a local holiday, the fan on top of the hydrogen sphere was also stopped. During plant startup two days later, a violent explosion occurred in the sphere. The sphere shell was torn into many sections by the explosion, and some of the sections were propelled as far as 1,200 ft. Some of these sections struck flammable liquid storage tanks and cracked the roofs of adjacent buildings. Most of the windows in the surrounding buildings were broken by the blast wave. Fortunately, there were no serious injuries.

A loss investigation indicated that hydrogen had leaked past the diaphragm when the fan was shut down. (The diaphragm had been installed about a year before the explosion as a replacement for another leaky diaphragm.*) Ignition of the resulting hydrogen-air mixture was attributed to an electrostatic discharge caused by the motion of the diaphragm when a compressor was started downstream of the sphere. However, another possible ignition source was the 'explosion-proof' fan at the top of the sphere.

*Hydrogen leaks across the diaphragm may have been due to the hydrogen permeability of neoprene. Measurements of hydrogen and oxygen diffusion through neoprene and other synthetic rubber skins have indicated this is the primary cause of a series of hydrogen-filled balloon explosions in Germany.

Incident Date
Dec 31, 1969
Equipment
  • Hydrogen Storage Equipment
  • Vessel
  • Electrical Equipment
  • Ventilation System
  • Positive Pressure Fan
Damage and Injuries
When Incident Discovered
Lessons Learned

In any event, the lesson that should be derived from this incident is the fact that the explosion could have been avoided either by using an inert gas instead of air across the diaphragm, or by monitoring the hydrogen concentration in the upper hemisphere.

Key:

  • = No Ignition
  • = Explosion
  • = Fire
Hydrogen Incident Summaries by Equipment and Primary Cause/Issue
Equipment / Cause Equipment Design or Selection Component Failure Operational Error Installation or Maintenance Inadequate Gas or Flame Detection Emergency Shutdown Response Other or Unknown
Hydrogen Gas Metal Cylinder or Regulator   3/31/2012
4/30/1995
2/6/2013
4/26/2010 12/31/1969     3/17/1999
11/1/2001
12/23/2003
Piping/Valves 4/4/2002
2/2/2008
5/11/1999
4/20/1987
11/4/1997
12/31/1969
8/19/1986
7/27/1991
12/19/2004
2/6/2008
10/3/2008
4/5/2006
5/1/2007
9/19/2007
10/31/1980
2/7/2009 1/24/1999
2/24/2006
6/8/1998
12/31/1969
2/7/2009

9/1/1992
10/31/1980

10/3/2008  
Tubing/Fittings/Hose   9/23/1999
8/2/2004
8/6/2008
9/19/2007
1/1/1982 9/30/2004
10/7/2005
  10/7/2005  
Compressor   10/5/2009
6/10/2007
8/21/2008
1/15/2019
    10/5/2009 8/21/2008  
Liquid Hydrogen Tank or Delivery Truck 4/27/1989 12/19/2004
1/19/2009
8/6/2004 12/31/1969   1/1/1974 12/17/2004
Pressure Relief Device 7/25/2013
5/4/2012
1/15/2002
1/08/2007
12/31/1969        
Instrument 1/15/2019 3/17/1999
12/31/1969
2/6/2013
    11/13/73    
Hydrogen Generation Equipment 7/27/1999     10/23/2001      
Vehicle or Lift Truck   7/21/2011         2/8/2011
12/9/2010
Fuel Dispenser   8/2/2004
5/1/2007
6/11/2007
9/19/2007
  2/24/2006
1/22/2009
     
Fuel Cell Stack            

5/3/2004
12/9/2010
2/8/2011

Hydrogen Cooled Generator       12/31/1969
2/7/2009
     
Other (floor drain, lab
anaerobic chamber,
heated glassware,
test chamber,
gaseous hydrogen
composite cylinder,
delivery truck)
  11/14/1994
7/21/2011
7/27/1999
6/28/2010
8/21/2008
12/31/1969
3/22/2018
    6/10/2019
  • = No Ignition
  • = Explosion
  • = Fire