Safely Using Hydrogen In Laboratories

Noble Gas Solutions supplies a large selection of hydrogen to Albany, along with many other specialty gases. Noble Gas Solutions frequently supplies hydrogen and other specialty gases to research laboratories and many other industries, so we felt it would be useful for our Albany customers to be updated on the safe use of hydrogen in laboratories.

With increasing costs correlated with the limited helium supply, those who operate and design laboratory equipment are progressively turning to their gas suppliers for hydrogen.  The use of hydrogen is found in several facilities, from medical research facilities to universities, analytical laboratories, and chemical process buildings.  Nonetheless, it is crucial to comprehend the risks that hydrogen storage, distribution, and use present along with the fire and safety code rules governed by the National Fire Protection Association’s Compressed Gases and Cryogenic Fluids Code (NFPA 55) and the International Fire Code (IFC) and International Building Code (IBC).

Recent updates to NFPA 55 have redefined the Maximum Allowable Quantities (MAQ) specifically established for hydrogen. These MAQ’s are discerned for each storage area, determined by storage in either an unsprinklered or fully sprinklered building and limited additionally based on whether or not the hydrogen cylinders are being contained in gas cabinets. The corresponding volumes are expressed as standard cubic feet (cuft) of hydrogen at 1 atmosphere of pressure. In an unsprinklered building in cylinders are stored in additional areas rather than simply gas cabinets, the MAQ is restricted to 1,000 cuft, whereas that number is multiplied to 2,000 cuft if all cylinders are stored in gas cabinets. Additionally, for sprinklered units where not all cylinders are stored in gas cabinets, the MAQ is also 2,000 cuft. That volume is doubled to 4,000 cuft if all cylinders are stored in gas cabinets. NFPA further states limitations based on hydrogen use in control areas or using outside storage, part II of this series will detail the infrastructure demands for compliance.

We will further our discussion by selectively describing some of the primary areas and necessities for hydrogen installation in regards to fire-resistance rating and ventilation.Section of NFPA states that for flammable gases kept or used in greater quanities than 250 cubic feet, a 1-hour fire resistance rated constrction should be employed for separation in the area. The compressed gas cylinders require separation by 10’ or a noncombustible wall; yet, they require separation by 20’ or a fire-resistant wall that has a minimum fire resistance rating of .5 hours from incompatible materials like oxygen. For places containing hydrogen systems, proper safety notices must be permanently placed as well.

Additionally, Section 6.16 states that use and storage areas that are indoors must be provided with ventilation, either mechanical or natural, so long as the natural ventilation has proved to be sufficient for the gas utilized. If using a mechanical ventilation process, the system must function while the building is occupied, with the rate of ventilation not reaching lower than 1 ft3/min per square foot of floor area of storage/use and having an emergency power system for alarms, vents, and gas detection. The system must also account for gas density to ensure sufficient exhaust ventilation. Part III of this series will expand on the rest of the NFPA 55 requirements for separation and controls.

To continue the series that explains updates to NFPA 55 regulating the proper utilization of hydrogen in laboratories, we will elaborate on our discussion selectively addressing some of the important areas and requirements for hydrogen installation in regard to separation and controls.Section of NFPA 55 dictates that any flammable or oxidizing gases must be separated by 20’ from each other, while section dictates that this distance can be limitlessly decreased when separated by a barrier made of noncombustible material a minimum of 5’ tall that provides a fire resistance rating of at least .5 hours.

The safe use of controls in hydrogen systems are stated by NFPA 55, IFC, & IBC, creating a slightly more nuanced requirement for compliance. Section 414.4 of the IBC demands that controls must be good enough for the intended application, with automatic controls being required to work without fail. Section 2703.2.2.1 of the IFC requires suitable materials for hazardous media, the main consequence being that 316L SS or copper piping shall be utilized and identified in accordance with ASME A13.1 with directional arrows every 20’. The system should also contain no concealed valves or breakable connections, using welded or copper brazed joints where the piping is concealed. NFPA 55 demands that these brazing materials should have a melting point above 10,000°F.Aside from piping requirements, these codes also demand the use of emergency shutoff valves on supply piping at the point of use and source of compressed gas, along with backflow prevention and flashback arrestors at the point of use.

As the final installment in the NFPA 55 series about the safe use of hydrogen in laboratories, we will finish our analysis by detailing employments where the Maximum Allowable Quantities (MAQ’s) is less than the demand for hydrogen gas cylinders.

It is not unusual to encounter installations where the demand for hydrogen is larger than the MAQ’s, most often in instrumentation applications and/or chemical reactions like hydrogenation. These are commonly found in installations using hydrogen where there is no outside storage and control to line pressures of less than 150 PSIG is unable to be obtained . The NFPA 55 code along with the IBC and IFC requirements will allow for these volumes exist within a building; however, certain building improvements are needed, effectively dictating that a hydrogen shelter be built by the facility. These upgrades consist of improvements to the structure fire rating, transportation, fire detection, a occupant limit, and a building story limit. Additionally, these instillations have stringent distancing regulations as well as floor and wall ratings. Although doable, it is best to avoid this scenario seeing as it is not optimal. A more effective solution would be to combine the facility’s requirements into several, smaller systems within which the compressed gas cylinders may be inserted exclusively in gas cabinets.

Noble Gas Solutions is a trusted132] distributor of hydrogen, along with several other specialty gases and specialty gas equipment to the Albany area. Whether you are looking for specialty gases for use in your laboratory research, or any other industry in Albany, Noble Gas Solutions will have the products you need to carry our your operations. To find out more about Noble Gas Solutions and our specialty gas products in Albany, browse our website and catalog. We can be reached at (518) 465-5229 or via email at
Larry Gallagher