Overview: A hydrogen leak and explosion occurred due to the installation of an incorrectly sized gasket at the suction line of a hydrogen compressor in a refinery hydrodesulfurization plant. The incorrectly sized gasket was mounted during the startup of the plant in 2001 and had never being inspected nor replaced.

Incident synopsis: The operating conditions were stable when the operator received an alarm indicating pressure loss in the circuit. He immediately instructed his field personnel to inspect the area. The hydrogen leak was confined inside the compressor room because the walls and roof were not provided with ventilation devices. An explosion occurred, causing two fatalities and the destruction of the compressor room and some of the surrounding area.

A metal hydride storage system was refilled using compressed hydrogen in a closed lab environment. The tank system is an in-house development and is optimized for high hydrogen storage density and use with an air-cooled fuel cell. The system is equipped with a pressure relief valve that opens gradually at 35 bar to protect the tank from overpressure conditions. The tank itself is designed to adsorb 400 g of hydrogen at a pressure less than 15 bar.

For refueling, the secondary pressure on the compressed hydrogen supply container was set to 20 bar and the adsorption of the hydride was started without hydrogen flow limitation. Due to the exothermic nature of the hydride upon recharge, as expected a sharp increase in tank temperature was measured. The tank was uncooled because the view more

Incident Synopsis
During a standard testing procedure, a 3,000 psig relief valve actuated at normal line pressure, releasing gaseous H2. The gaseous H2 combined with air, resulting in an explosion which damaged the test facility.

The relief valve was improperly set to open at line pressure, and the inspection was inadequate in that it didn't identify this error. Contributing cause was poor design of the venting system, which was installed in a horizontal position, causing inadequate venting and buildup of static electricity.