Competency Standards for Emerging Hydrogen Related Activities

DOI: 10.4236/ojsst.2020.102004   PDF   HTML   XML   17 Downloads   58 Views  


As hydrogen use as a fuel gains momentum and becomes a component of many nation’s economies, there is a growing need for identification of the skills and knowledge required by workers undertaking hydrogen related activities. This paper considers the activities in the industry and qualifies some of the core competencies required for the emerging workforce. The core competencies are considered specifically from the perspective of working with hydrogen rather than other gases, which in most cases have well developed competency standards, many of which can be applied to the hydrogen industry. The paper focuses on training as it is applicable at a vocational education and training sector level, such as technicians, trade workers and transportation workers, rather than the job roles that require degree or above level qualifications. For many decades, hydrogen has been used extensively in the process industries (e.g. refineries and ammonia synthesis) and experience has shown that it can be handled safely in industrial applications as long as appropriate standards, regulations and best practices are being followed [1]. Relevant training will contribute to the safe handling and use of hydrogen in its new applications. A number of general competency standards for work in hydrogen related activities are presented and these can be used to be integrated into existing vocational education and training frameworks.

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Skiba, R. (2020) Competency Standards for Emerging Hydrogen Related Activities. Open Journal of Safety Science and Technology, 10, 42-52. doi: 10.4236/ojsst.2020.102004.

1. Introduction

1.1. Industrial Use of Hydrogen

Energy markets across the globe are undergoing substantial change, driven by the need to reduce carbon emissions while meeting growing demand for energy [2]. Hydrogen is a flexible, safe, transportable and storable fuel that can be used to power vehicles and generate heat and electricity. There is significant global movement toward utilisation of hydrogen as a fuel and globally, hydrogen makers now produce about 70 million tonnes of hydrogen per year [3].

Hydrogen is an energy-efficient, low-polluting fuel. The US Energy Information Administration [4] reports that nearly all of the hydrogen consumed in the United States is used by “industry for refining petroleum, treating metals, producing fertilizer, and processing foods”. US petroleum refineries use hydrogen to lower the sulphur content of fuels. They also outline that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) began using liquid hydrogen in the 1950s as a rocket fuel, and NASA was one of the first to use hydrogen fuel cells to power the electrical systems on spacecraft.

Hydrogen fuel cells can also be used to produce electricity for a range of applications. They do this by combining hydrogen and oxygen atoms. The hydrogen reacts with oxygen across an electrochemical cell similar to that of a battery to produce electricity, water, and small amounts of heat [4]. Small fuel cells can power laptop computers and even mobile phones, and military applications. Large fuel cells can provide electricity for backup or emergency power in buildings and supply electricity in places that are not connected to electric power grids. The US Energy Information Administration [4] notes that at the end of October 2019, there were approximately 80 fuel cell power plants operating in the United States.

IEA [5] outlines “supplying hydrogen to industrial users is now a major business around the world”. They report that demand for hydrogen, which has grown more than threefold since 1975, continues to rise with 6% of global natural gas and 2% of global coal going to hydrogen production. AZoCleantech [6] illuminates that given that hydrogen does not exist on Earth as a gas, it must be separated from other compounds. Two of the most common methods used for the production of hydrogen are electrolysis or water splitting and steam reforming. Steam reforming is used in industries to separate hydrogen atoms from carbon atoms in methane.

Electrolysis involves passing an electric current through water to separate water into its basic elements, hydrogen and oxygen and hydrogen is then collected at the negatively charged cathode and oxygen at the positive anode [6]. Hydrogen production using renewable electricity is growing rapidly and most commonly, electricity from renewable sources such as wind or solar power is used to drive the electrochemical dissociation (electrolysis) of water to form hydrogen and oxygen [7].

The Hydrogen Strategy Group [7] outlines that hydrogen, from a consumer perspective, is a gas much like natural gas that can be used to heat buildings and power vehicles. It can be mixed with natural gas as a way to lower greenhouse gas emissions for space heating, water heating and cooking. They further outline that it can be used as a biofuel in cars or stored in fuel cells as an alternative to batteries for electric cars which will require new skills in handling, storing, and using hydrogen. The Hydrogen Strategy Group also identify that from an environmental perspective, hydrogen is unique among liquid and gaseous fuels in that it emits absolutely no CO2 emissions when burned.

Australian Industry Standards [8] note that hydrogen can be safely added to the existing infrastructure and appliances at 10% volume without making any changes to pipes or regulations. Hydrogen can be extracted from fossil fuels and biomass, from water, or from a mix of both [5]. Natural gas is currently the primary source of hydrogen production accounting for about 6% of global natural gas use. IEA [5] note that gas is followed by coal, due to its dominant role in China, and a small fraction is produced from the use of oil and electricity.

1.2. Evolving Need for Training in Hydrogen Related Activities

There is a growing identification in Australia, through its industry, that there is a current need for training and competency standards involved in the safe handling and storage of hydrogen, particularly as Australia establishes itself as a key supplier of hydrogen. Australian Industry Standards [8] through its industry stakeholder consultations identifies that Australia has the potential to establish itself as a key supplier of hydrogen whilst countries such as China, South Korea, Singapore, and Japan are relying on hydrogen as a cost-effective route to reducing emissions. They identify that there is a current movement for industries to seek out new energy sources based on environmental concerns and hydrogen can be seen as a viable alternative, particularly since as it is a very versatile, low cost, and low emission fuel.

Australian Industry Standards [8] identifies that the workforce requires upskilling and retraining especially in hydrogen storage and safe handling. They refer to the COAG Hydrogen Council Working Group which has “recommended training and educational programs to both build the necessary skills for the hydrogen industry and build community understanding and support for hydrogen”. They further posit that “with appropriate skills training and accreditation programs, the Australian gas industry is poised to maximise growth opportunities in the hydrogen value chain” and that this would enable “an economically sustainable hydrogen sector, helping to address concerns around energy security and supply” [8].

Referring to the International Energy Agency (IEA), Australian Industry Standards [9] notes that activities which involve the use of hydrogen, can pose some explicit public safety risks. As such, these activities require specific measures to ensure this risk is appropriately managed and contained. The chemical composition of hydrogen means that heating, or reactions with air, halogens or strong oxidants can all significantly increase the risk of an explosion hazard Australian Industry Standards [9]. Some of the required safety measures are addressed by the COAG Energy Council released Australia’s National Hydrogen Strategy [2] with an identification of the maintenance of a safe environment for the community and emergency services personnel. The COAG document identifies that more work needs to be done in skills development in this field. The training process commences with an identification of the skills needed in the gas and also public safety industries, and structuring these into competency standards that can be utilised as a foundation for training programs.

Bezdek [10] refers to a study by the US Department of Energy (DOE) that found “training for new skills may be needed across a wide spectrum of industries and that training and retraining programs may be needed to help ensure that the US workforce possesses appropriate skills and that sufficient numbers of trained personnel are available to support the hydrogen economy”.

1.3. Hydrogen Related Activities

Hydrogen related activities include those related to research, production, storage, transportation and distribution. They also include development and fitting hydrogen based systems, such as fuel cells into vehicles. Bezdek [10] identifies a range of current and new work roles for workers in hydrogen related activities. Within the vocational education and training domain, these include roles such as: Fuel cell manufacturing technician; Fuel cell fabrication and testing technician; Hydrogen energy systems designer; Hydrogen fuel transporter—Trucker; Hydrogen fueling station operator; Hydrogen pipeline construction worker; Fuel cell retrofit installer; Hydrogen vehicle electrician; Hydrogen lab technician; and, Hydrogen energy system installer.

Currently, hydrogen is distributed through three methods: Pipeline; High-Pressure Tube Trailers; and Liquefied Hydrogen Tankers. Each distribution method requires specific job roles and safety standards. They all require competency standards as a benchmark such that they can be suitably trained into these roles.

1.4. Hydrogen Hazards

Some of the challenges regarding hydrogen include the transportation and storage of liquid hydrogen, hydrogen carriers, pipelines, and hydrogen terminals [9]. Hydrogen Strategy Group [7] outline that “given their combustible nature, all conventional fuels have some degree of risk associated with their use” and “although hydrogen is a different fuel to natural gas and has different combustion characteristics, a preliminary analysis by the Energy Pipelines Cooperative Research Centre indicates its overall risk is similar”.

Some considerations include that if hydrogen leaks, it will disperse much more quickly than natural gas and is not as likely to collect in confined spaces, reducing the risk of a gas explosion. Hydrogen ignites at a wider range of concentrations in air with a flammability range is between 4% and 75% in air. However, because hydrogen disperses quicker, it is more difficult for it to remain concentrated enough to be flammable. Adequate ventilation and leak detection protocols can mitigate any potential greater risk [7].

Hydrogen flames are more difficult to see than those of natural gas. Hydrogen Strategy Group [7] suggest that this can be addressed by adding a suitable compound to the hydrogen mix so the flame burns a particular colour, or by using special flame detectors. Hydrogen also reacts differently with metals and it can cause certain metals to become brittle and crack. This risk can be addressed through guidelines on appropriate materials and training on handling hydrogen. Hydrogen Strategy Group [7] summarise that “using any fuel safely relies on preventing the simultaneous unwanted occurrence of three factors: an ignition source (spark or heat), an oxidant (air), and fuel”. Suitable training focuses on avoidance of the simultaneous occurrence of these three factors.

1.5. Hydrogen Work Environment Skills and Knowledge Requirements

A cautiously optimistic scenario could see an Australian hydrogen industry generate about 7600 jobs and add about $11 billion a year in additional GDP by 2050 [2]. There will be a significant demand for training across these jobs including technicians, trades people, engineers and professionals. As such, the range of skills and knowledge requirements are broad and specific to the work role.

In general, as outlined by H2 Tools [11], all staff who will be working with or around hydrogen should be adequately trained on hydrogen safety procedures. They need to, at the very least, understand hydrogen properties and behaviour, safety requirements for working with or around high-pressure hydrogen gas and cryogenic liquid hydrogen and hydrogen equipment inspection, operation, and maintenance. Health and Safety aspects related to working with hydrogen are core skills and knowledge that should be included in any training program. Also required are first aid procedures and emergency notification and evacuation/response policies and procedures.

Dahoe and Molkov [1] presented a structure for a proposed “International Curriculum on Hydrogen Safety Engineering”. They presented basic, fundamental and applied modules as the framework of training requirements in providing training for the emerging hydrogen economy. The five basic modules include: thermodynamics; chemical kinetics; fluid dynamics; heat and mass transfer; and solid mechanics. There are six fundamental modules: introduction to hydrogen as an energy carrier; fundamentals of hydrogen safety; release, mixing and distribution; hydrogen ignition; hydrogen fires; and, explosions, deflagrations and detonations. The applied modules are intended to provide graduates with the skill-set needed to solve hydrogen safety problems. These include modules: fire and explosion effects on people, structures, and the environment; accident prevention and mitigation; computational hydrogen safety engineering; and, risk assessment.

Individuals who are working in hydrogen related activities need to understand the properties of hydrogen and how it compares to other fuels. The safety mechanisms of hydrogen systems must also be covered and will vary on the work role and relevant hydrogen system. The general skills and knowledge include the fundamentals of hydrogen, hydrogen terminology and technology, potential

Table 1. General competency standards for those working with hydrogen.

hazards and potential protective measures. These general skills and knowledge should include carrying out appropriate incident response actions. Those who are working with hydrogen powered vehicles also need to recognize and identify hydrogen vehicles, stationary power generators, storage containers, and refuelling equipment. A Framework for general competency standards for those working with hydrogen is provided as Table 1. The table provides a basis from which learning outcomes or performance element/criteria can be developed given the variation in vocational education and enterprise training systems globally. The key module topics as presented by Dahoe and Molkov [1] have been integrated into the contrived competency standard framework.

A number of competency standards would also be required to cover those involved with fitting and maintaining hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles as this technology evolves and uptake of its use increases.

Trinder [12] illuminates that “Competency Standards are used by professions and governments to define the qualifications required for professionals to practise in a profession or discipline”. Trinder further defines competence as “the ability to perform activities within an occupation; to function as expected for employment; and the ability to do a job under a variety of conditions, including the ability to cope with contingencies”. Competence for those who are employed in the hydrogen industry is critical to the safety of the systems those workers creating, installing and maintaining them.

2. Conclusion

Hydrogen safety training should be provided to all employees who handle hydrogen or materials from which hydrogen can be evolved. Employers should ensure that workers have access to proper training to do their jobs safely. Training should be based on a competency standard designed specifically around hydrogen related activities and the hazards related to these activities. Aside from job role specific competency standards, uniform general competency standards can include: preparing to work in the hydrogen industry, work practices in the hydrogen industry, complying with environmental policies and procedures, application of health and safety and transporting hydrogen.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


[1] Dahoe, A.E. and Molkov, V.V. (2006) On the Development of an International Curriculum on Hydrogen Safety Engineering and Its Implementation into Educational Programmes. WEHC, 4.
[2] COAG Energy Council Hydrogen Working Group (2019) Australia’s National Hydrogen Strategy. Commonwealth of Australia.
[3] International Energy Agency (2019) The Future of Hydrogen.
[4] U.S. Energy Information Administration (2020) Hydrogen Explained: Use of Hydrogen.
[5] IEA (2019) The Future of Hydrogen. IEA, Paris.
[6] AZoCleantech (2008) Hydrogen Energy—The Perfect Energy Source for the Future?
[7] Hydrogen Strategy Group (2018) Hydrogen for Australia’s Future: A Briefing Paper for the COAG Energy Council. Commonwealth of Australia.
[8] Australian Industry Standards (2020) GAS IRC: Annual Update to Industry Skills Forecast and Proposed Schedule of Work 2020.
[9] Australian Industry Standards (2020) PUBLIC SAFETY: Annual Update to Industry Skills Forecast and Proposed Schedule of Work 2020.
[10] Bezdek, R.H. (2019) The Hydrogen Economy and Jobs of the Future. Renewable Energy and Environmental Sustainability, 4, 1-6.
[11] H2 Tools (2020) Training.
[12] Trinder, J.C. (2008) Competency Standards-A Measure of the Quality of a Workforce. The International Archives of the Photogrammetry. Remote Sensing and Spatial Information Sciences, 36, Part B.

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