Author(s): Angelo Verzoni. Published on June 28, 2022.

Leak Smarts

A new online tool will give users an easy, inexpensive way to predict the outcome of hydrogen fuel leaks


With the global market for hydrogen fuel cells poised for rapid expansion, experts say giving facility managers, authorities having jurisdiction, and others a quick and inexpensive way to predict how hydrogen will behave in the event of a leak is a critical part of safely growing the hydrogen market.

A new tool born out of a recent project by the Fire Protection Research Foundation (FPRF), NFPA’s research affiliate, is designed to do just that.

Hydrogen fuel cells work by combining hydrogen—a colorless, odorless gas under most conditions—with oxygen to produce electricity. There’s just one problem: Hydrogen is extremely flammable, ranking four out of four for flammability on the NFPA hazard diamond outlined in NFPA 704, Standard System for the Identification of the Hazards of Materials for Emergency Response.

The new tool, known as the Hydrogen Dispersion Screening Tool, is intended to help users determine what they’re dealing with when a leak is detected. “It should be used as a first approximation of the outcome of a particular hydrogen release scenario, which is especially helpful in looking at scenarios that are of greatest concern for users—like a really big leak,” said Sreenivasan Ranganathan, an FPRF project manager. “If more information is required beyond the screening tool predictions, the user can turn to more accurate and configuration-specific models.”

Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin developed the tool, writing in a recent paper that it “provides a user-friendly and accessible way to quickly compare hydrogen release scenarios.” Utilizing web-based software, users input leak parameters such as the release pressure, temperature of the hydrogen, and the diameter of the opening that hydrogen is escaping from; with that information, the tool generates graphs showing the concentration of hydrogen at certain distances from where the leak originated and other critical information to help users determine the safest course of action.

The timing for this kind of resource is critical. A market research report published in February determined that the global hydrogen fuel cell market is predicted to grow from a roughly $2 billion industry today to $130 billion by 2030, with hydrogen-powered vehicles expected to account for more than a third of that market value. 

The tool will serve as a valuable asset in conducting safety evaluations and establishing code compliance at sites where hydrogen gas is used, Ranganathan said. Certain sections of codes like NFPA 2, Hydrogen Technologies Code, and NFPA 55, Compressed Gases and Cryogenic Fluids Code, for instance, include requirements for ventilation systems and separation distances based on the lower flammability limit of particular gases—a measurement based on the gas’s concentration in air.  

The tool is expected to become available sometime in early July.

ANGELO VERZONI is a staff writer for NFPA Journal. Follow him on Twitter @angelo_verzoni. Top photograph: Getty Images