A hydrogen generation plant experienced a fire and significant damage due to a concussive combustion event that started in a high-pressure hydrogen feed pipe.

System Description

A certain hydrogen plant is designed to continuously produce hydrogen at a purity of 99.75% and at a rate of 510 m3 per day. Hydrogen is produced in two banks of cells filled with a strong solution of caustic soda. Current is passed through the cells to produce hydrogen and oxygen. The oxygen is vented directly to the atmosphere, while the hydrogen is piped to the gasholder. The gasholder is a low-pressure storage vessel capable of storing 28 m3 of gas. It is constructed in two parts. The bottom section is a large round tank. The upper section is an inverted tank or bell that is view more

Description of Circumstances
An incident occurred in late 2001, while a boiling water reactor (BWR) unit was operating at rated power. The utility was performing a periodic surveillance of the high-pressure coolant-injection (HPCI) system. Immediately after the test began, the HPCI system automatically isolated and the reactor building fire detectors actuated. The unit was then manually shut down. An examination of the residual heat removal (RHR) system revealed that a pipe elbow had ruptured near the high point in the RHR branch steam supply line leading to one of the two RHR heat exchangers (steam condensing mode line) in the reactor building. Fragments from the piping rupture caused some damage to equipment in the general area, but no significant damage to any safety-related view more

A facility experienced a major fire in its Resid Hydrotreater Unit (RHU) that caused millions of dollars in property damage. One employee sustained a minor injury during the emergency unit shutdown and there were no fatalities.

The RHU incident investigation determined that an 8-inch diameter carbon steel elbow inadvertently installed in a high-pressure, high-temperature hydrogen line ruptured after operating for only 3 months. The escaping hydrogen gas from the ruptured elbow quickly ignited.

This incident occurred after a maintenance contractor accidentally replaced an alloy steel elbow with a carbon steel elbow during a scheduled heat exchanger overhaul. The alloy steel elbow was resistant to high-temperature hydrogen attack (HTHA), but the carbon steel elbow was not. view more


A gas-phase explosion in a storage tower with semichemical pulp at a paper mill has possibly been caused by combustion of a mixture of hydrogen and air. The hydrogen was formed by microorganisms in the pulp. Ignition may be due to electric sparks in connection with an electric field in the mist above the pulp.

Accident Description

A gas-phase explosion took place in a 1,300 m3 storage tower for semichemical pulp at a paper mill. The storage tower was 21 m high and equipped with an agitator at the bottom. By a pumping arrangement, the pulp was circulated from the bottom to the top through external pipes connected with the mill (Fig. 1).

On a given day the production was stopped at a time when the storage tower was loaded with 1,000 m3 pulp at a view more

A power plant reported a hydrogen leak inside an auxiliary building. The given plant was in cold shutdown at the time of the event. The discovery of this problem was as a result of an unassociated event involving the activation of a chlorine monitor in the control building. When additional samples indicated no chlorine gas, the shift supervisor ordered further investigation into other plant areas. Because there was no installed detection equipment, portable survey instruments were used to determine gaseous mixtures. Hydrogen was detected in the auxiliary building at 20 to 30 percent of the lower flammability limit (LFL) for hydrogen. A level of about 30 percent of LFL corresponds to about 1.2 percent hydrogen by volume.

When hydrogen was discovered in the auxiliary building, the view more

An explosion occurred in an electrolysis system in a commercial facility. Electrolysis of a potassium hydroxide solution is used to produce hydrogen for a hydrogenation processes. The circular electrolysis cells are 1.5 m in diameter and 25 mm thick. Design current for the electrolyzer is 6,000 amps at 1.78 volts. Operating temperature and pressure is 70-90 °C and 435 psig. Hydrogen and oxygen product gases are separated from the electrolyte in separating drums. The system had been operating at the plant for 13 years prior to the explosion. Operating experiences had been generally favorable except for the need to periodically flush the system with water to remove sludge formations.

According to the investigative report, sludge deposits in the electrolyte passages started the view more

A hydrogen explosion occurred in an Uninterruptible Power Source (UPS) battery room. The explosion blew a 400 ft2 hole in the roof, collapsed numerous walls and ceilings throughout the building, and significantly damaged a large portion of the 50,000 ft2 building. Fortunately, the computer/data center was vacant at the time and there were no injuries.

The facility was formerly a large computer/data center with a battery room and emergency generators. The company vacated the building and moved out the computer equipment; however the battery back-up system was left behind. The ventilation for the battery room appeared to be tied into a hydrogen monitoring system. The hydrogen sensor was in alarm upon emergency responders arriving at the scene (post-explosion). 911 callers view more

An offgas system mishap involved two explosions occurring within an interval of about 3 ½ hours. The first offgas explosion was reportedly caused by a welding operation on an air line adjacent to a hydrogen sensor line containing off gas. The welding arc initiated a detonation within the offgas piping. The detonation was contained by the piping system but blew out the water seal at the base of the vent stack.The second hydrogen explosion in this incident occurred in the stack base area. Hydrogen accumulated in the enclosed base area after the water seal had been blown in the first explosion. The stack base metal door was blown off its hinges from the second explosion, and the reinforced concrete stack was also damaged. A plant employee walking by the stack at the time of the explosion view more

A water treatment plant used an electrolytic process to generate sodium hypochlorite (NaOCl) from sodium chloride (NaCl). The strategy of using liquid sodium hypochlorite for disinfecting water instead of gaseous chlorine (CL2) is popular because the liquid is generally safer and falls under fewer OSHA and EPA standards. The further idea of generating the liquid sodium hypochlorite on an as-needed basis and in limited quantities also has certain obvious safety advantages.

One of the disadvantages of the electrolytic process is that hydrogen gas is also created as a byproduct. The hydrogen is supposed to be vented, by design, to the atmosphere before the liquid sodium hypochlorite passes into a holding tank.

For various reasons, in this instance it is believed that the view more

Difficulties were experienced with two solenoid-operated globe valves in a charging system. When shut, the valves could not be reopened without securing all charging pumps. During a refueling outage, the two valves were disassembled and examined to determine the cause of the malfunction. It was found that disc guide assembly springs in both valves had undergone complete catastrophic failure. The springs, which initially had 25 coils, were found in sections of only 1-2 coils. Metallurgical analysis of the failed springs attributed the probable cause of failure was due to hydrogen embrittlement. The springs are made of 17-7 PH stainless steel.

Discussion with the valve manufacturer revealed that similar failures occurred on three previous occasions. These spring failures were also view more


  • = 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
4/26/2010 12/31/1969     3/17/1999
Piping/Valves 4/4/2002
2/7/2009 1/24/1999


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


Hydrogen Cooled Generator       12/31/1969
Other (floor drain, lab
anaerobic chamber,
heated glassware,
test chamber,
gaseous hydrogen
composite cylinder,
delivery truck)
  • = No Ignition
  • = Explosion
  • = Fire