Safely Using Hydrogen In Laboratories

ILMO Products Company offers a large selection of hydrogen to Springfield, along with many other specialty gases. ILMO Products Company quite often supplies hydrogen and other specialty gases to research laboratories and many other industries, so we felt it would be useful for our Springfield customers to be up to date on the safe use of hydrogen in laboratories.

With rising costs correlated with the limited amount of helium that is available, those who operate and design laboratory equipment are beginning to turn more frequently 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 imperative to comprehend the risks that are posed through the use, distribution, and storage of hydrogen along with the fire and safety code requirements administered 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 which some cylinders are not stored in gas cabinets, the MAQ is restricted to 1,000 cuft, whereas that amount is increased to 2,000 cuft if all cylinders are stored in gas cabinets. Likewise, 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 has limitations determined by hydrogen use in control areas or utilizing outside storage, part II of this series will detail the infrastructure needs for compliance.

We will elaborate on our discussion by selectively describing some of the primary areas and necessities for hydrogen installation when referring to fire-resistance rating and ventilation.Section of NFPA explains that for flammable gases kept or utilized in amounts greater than 250 cubic feet, a 1-hour fire resistance rated constrction will be utilized to separate the area. The compressed gas cylinders must be separated by 10’ or a nonflammable wall; but, they need to be separated by 20’ or a nonflammable wall that has a minimum fire resistance rating of .5 hours from incompatible matters like oxygen. For areas containing hydrogen systems, appropriate safety placards must likewise be permanently set up.

Similarly, Section 6.16 describes that indoor storage and use areas must be given either natural or mechanical ventilation, so long as the natural ventilation is proven to be acceptable for the gas used. If using a mechanical ventilation process, the system must be operational 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 is also tasked with accounting for gas density to ensure proper exhaust ventilation. Part III of this series will elaborate on the remaining NFPA 55 requirements for separation and controls.

To further explain the series discussing updates to NFPA 55 governing the safe use of hydrogen in laboratories, we will continue our discussion selectively describing some of the primary areas and requirements for hydrogen installation in terms of separation and controls.Section of NFPA 55 states that any flammable or oxidizing gases need to be separated by 20’ from each other, while section declares that this distance can be limitlessly decreased when separated by a barrier constructed 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 dictated by NFPA 55, IFC, & IBC, creating a slightly more nuanced neccessity for compliance. Section 414.4 of the IBC demands that controls must be sufficient for the intended application, with automatic controls being required to operate fail-safe. Section 2703.2.2.1 of the IFC requires suitable materials for hazardous media, the main negative result 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 dictates that these brazing materials should have a melting point higher than 10,000°F.Aside from piping requirements, these codes also require 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 concluding part in the NFPA 55 series that details the the proper use of hydrogen in labs, we will conclude our discussion by explaining uses where the need for hydrogen gas cylinders is higher than the Maximum Allowable Quantities (MAQ’s).

It is quite typical to find installations where the requirement for hydrogen is greater than the MAQ’s, usually in instrumentation applications and/or chemical reactions like hydrogenation. These are often encountered in installations using hydrogen where outside storage is unavailable and control to line pressures of less than 150 PSIG is not achievable . The NFPA 55 code and the IBC and IFC requirements allows these volumes be in a building; however, significant upgrades to the building are needed, effectively dictating that the facility build a hydrogen shelter. The upgrades include enhancements to the structure fire rating, transportation, fire detection, a restraint on the amount of occupants, and a limit to the number of stories a building can have. These installations also have strict distancing requirements and floor and wall ratings as well. Although feasible, this scenario is not ideal and should be avoided if possible. A more efficient resolution would be to parcel the facility’s requirements into many, smaller systems in which the compressed gas cylinders may be set up entirely in gas cabinets.

ILMO Products Company is a dependable132] distributor of hydrogen, along with various other specialty gases and specialty gas equipment to the Springfield area. Whether you need specialty gases for use in your laboratory research, or any other industry in Springfield, ILMO Products Company will have the products you need to complete your tasks. To find out more about ILMO Products Company and our specialty gas products in Springfield, browse our website and catalog. We can be reached at (217) 245-2183 or via email at
Larry Gallagher