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Digitalising the industrial and societal safety of future hydrogen infrastructures

Digital Safety Hydrogen

The energy landscape is inextricably linked to the battle against global warming, invoking a holistic approach to a new energy sources connected to each other. Among these, we are witnessing the emergence of one in particular: hydrogen.

The multi-form nature of hydrogen, makes it an increasingly attractive prospect, with options for storage, transport or combustible carrier.

While a decarbonised hydrogen revolution is already underway, the safety and security challenges of this energy carrier are not fundamentally new. The international growth of hydrogen places new requirements on industrial sectors that are already highly regulated, particularly in terms of process safety. It is therefore essential to develop innovative and reliable solutions to guarantee the safety of hydrogen production, transport, storage and usage.

The complexity of the hydrogen sector, linked not only to the size of the projects but also their inclusion in urban infrastructures, requires new approaches to demonstrate the safety and security of these future infrastructures.

Methods of modelling this complexity using  digital technologies will ensure the success of this energy revolution.

Extraordinary growth in France, Europe and the world

The French government recently presented (Oct. 21) a 30 billion euro investment plan for industry and technology over the next five years. Among the beneficiaries of this large-scale plan, France has chosen hydrogen and is rapidly preparing for the construction of “two gigafactories or electrolysers” to become a global “leader in green hydrogen” in 2030, ensuring the “decarbonisation of industry”.

Across Europe, multiple countries are putting hydrogen at the heart of their recovery plans. By 2024, the European Commission wants to develop a minimum capacity of 6 gigawatts (GW) of electrolysers in Europe, to ensure the production of up to one million tonnes of renewable hydrogen, rising to 10 million tonnes by 2030.

While France and Europe are among the pioneers of the hydrogen industry, this is a global trend. According to figures reported by the International Energy Agency (IEA), global demand for hydrogen has tripled since 1975 and continues to grow.

“It is an important energy revolution that is underway and it will radically change the way hydrogen is used in the future, transforming it from an industrial energy carrier into a more accessible consumer resource. As the number of stakeholders increases, the hydrogen industrial landscape and supply chain will be completely transformed to accommodate this growth and the safety and security aspects will need to be mastered.”

Hydrogen safety, a central issue for all players in the value chain

The development of hydrogen in the global energy transition can only be realised if it can serve as a low-carbon, accessible, reliable, and safe development for the environment and society. This will require safety processes dedicated to hydrogen at all stages of the life cycle: production, storage, transport and, of course, end-use.

The challenges presented by the safety and security of hydrogen concern all stakeholders within an H2 project:

  • Companies involved in production, storage and transportation must ensure that their facilities are designed and operated in in safe conditions and in compliance with regulatory requirements. As with the development of any industry that involves risks to people or the environment, hydrogen operators must provide assurance of an excellent level of safety in all their industrial processes.
  • Public authorities and regulators need to build confidence in the safety of hydrogen. To do this, they need to act as catalysts in the development of its legal ecosystem. Initially, this will require the creation of a clear regulatory framework at a national and/or international level (across Europe, measures are already under construction). These contributors also need to define independent control authorities who will be responsible for auditing and certifying the safety of installations.
  • The general public must have a high level of confidence in using hydrogen in society, for example for heating or transport. This requires greater awareness of, and support for, a change towards hydrogen equipment and consumption patterns.

The acceptance and development of hydrogen depends on the individual and collective capacity of those in the sector to demonstrate that high levels of safety and security can be achieved and maintained.

The main risks to consider in consolidating a safe approach to hydrogen

Despite its virtuous benefits, hydrogen is often perceived as dangerous or hazardous to society and the environment thanks to its volatility or explosive nature.

The main risks associated with hydrogen are the risk of explosion, the risk of fire or the degradation of the performance of production facilities due to poor anticipation of interfaces with related activities: hydrogen leaks into the atmosphere, formation of hydrogen-oxygen and hydrogen-air mixtures, exposure of hydrides to air or water, etc.

The management of these risks applies throughout the value chain:

  • In the design phase: selection of suitable materials, process control systems, sizing of associated infrastructure, etc.
  • In the installation phase: checking the tightness of the installation’s connections, etc.
  • In the operation phase: for end users, including customers, maintenance teams and operators.

For more than a century the considerations required for the safe usage, storage and transport of hydrogen are now proven. The main challenge now lies in the safe and reliable integration of hydrogen into new equipment and ecosystems, which are already highly standardised against their own sets of constraints and risks (rail, urban, road infrastructures, etc.). “We must therefore manage and introduce hydrogen-specific requirements and ensure they are demonstrated without any negative cross-impact on the safety and security standards already in place in these different sectors”. 

Supporting the entire hydrogen safety supply chain: solutions to secure projects

We believe that hydrogen safety will require a project management approach that ensures safe and effective outcomes to reduce costs, manage risks, meet schedules, and improve predictability.

This expertise starts with risk identification, through deterministic and probabilistic approaches, and extends to mitigation measures, including analysis and improvement of human performance.

To ensure the consolidated data for defining the optimal safety scenario for a project is mastered, it is essential that these approaches are supported:

  • By specialists in safety and security within complex industrial environments, acting as owner engineers (OE) on behalf of the main stakeholders in a hydrogen project,
  • By digital solutions, allowing the collection, classification and archiving of information and to capitalise on a real hydrogen regulatory database enriched throughout the projects,
  • By coupling business knowledge with digital and modelling technologies to propose faster and more exhaustive risk analysis scenarios to help aid the decision-making process for future operators.

The skills of industrial engineering coupled with the power of digital technology are able to provide:

  • Advice and support to public authorities and organisations in assessing and approving projects for the development, installation, and operation of hydrogen facilities.

Future hydrogen infrastructures will create multiple requirements associated with human, environmental, geographical, and political factors across the new architectures, technologies and stakeholders related to the various applications envisaged. These requirements are currently dispersed, unstructured, and difficult for organisations and authorities to understand in order to analyse the feasibility of projects and subsequently to validate them in the construction, commissioning and operating phases.

Assystem has developed a consolidated database of hydrogen and safety knowledge, enriched with regional, national, and international standards as they are published. This database is coupled with a suite of “microservices” for analysing and structuring data and information that will allow users to quickly and efficiently find or trace information about a project, identify project requirements, structure them, and prepare the certification and authorisation phases of a project more effectively. Subsequently, these services will also help to prepare the construction supervision, commissioning, and operation of the infrastructure. « The digital suite developed by Assystem includes image and character recognition technologies, natural language processing technologies coupled with learning and artificial intelligence algorithms. This suite also includes data acquisition functionalities through the creation of questionnaires, the recording of interviews, taking of photos or videos or the reading of information on social networks which allow analysis of the project’s value to be carried out with greater efficiency and better traceability. »

All this structured content, available in a collaborative and secure manner, makes it possible to offer enhanced services from the design phases and to guarantee their availability throughout the project life cycle.

  • Organisational and technical support to developers, manufacturers, and engineers in charge of hydrogen projects to comply with specific regulations and consolidate associated safety procedures.

For these actors, the integration of safety in hydrogen installation development projects is essential to secure investments.  There are many factors to consider in the safety of projects, including site selection and environmental impact assessment, regulatory requirements management, human factors engineering, QHSE compliance, supply chain, construction supervision, testing and commissioning. “For example, we propose a dedicated Assystem’s approach to develop a digital twin of the project including organisational, functional, and technical aspects. This digital twin at the “System of System” level will feed on the knowledge base developed and these innovative tools, as well as being hosted by a digital ecosystem including engineering platforms (PLM, BIM, CAD) and project and contract management platforms (a system of systems is here a set of interconnected autonomous systems coordinated to meet a specific capability or function that the individual systems could not perform separately.). This will provide comprehensive risk analysis to define ‘compliant’ project architectures immediately, ensuring greater confidence in the delivery and cost effectiveness of investment projects.”

This interoperable digital ecosystem is enriched by feedback from completed projects to improve future projects. It also allows for better traceability of the evolution of norms and standards that are bound to evolve in the years to come.

Whatever the solutions offered to hydrogen industry players, support that combines safety expertise and digital know-how will be vital to the success of its deployment. Our experience in digital technologies, combined with our historical background in complex projects with strong regulatory and safety constraints, particularly in the nuclear sector, makes Assystem a trusted partner for the deployment of safe hydrogen projects throughout the world.

 

 

 

Transport et data science - Assystem

About the expert

Robert Plana

CTO

PhD in Information and Communication technologies, Robert has extensive expertise in Industrial Internet of Things and Advanced Technologies.

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