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Examining the Role of Safety in Communication Concerning Emerging Hydrogen Technologies by Selected Groups of Stakeholders


Governments and other stakeholders actively promote and facilitate the development and deployment of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies. Various strategy documents and energy forecasts outline the environmental and societal benefits of the prospective hydrogen economy. At the same time, the safety related properties of hydrogen imply that it is not straightforward to achieve and document the same level of safety for hydrogen systems, compared to conventional fuels. Severe accidents can have major impact on the development of energy technologies. The stakes will increase significantly as the use of hydrogen shifts from controlled environments in industrial facilities to the public domain, and as the transport-related consumption extends from passenger cars and buses, to trains, ships and airplanes. Widespread deployment of hydrogen as an energy carrier in society will require massive investments. This implies commercial and political commitment, involvement and influence on research priorities and decision-making. The legacy from accidents and the messages communicated by influential stakeholders impact not only how the public perceives hydrogen technologies, but also governmental policies, the development of regulations, codes and standards (RCS), and ultimately the measures adopted for preventing and mitigating accidents. This paper explores whether and how selected aspects of safety are considered when distinct groups of stakeholders frame the hydrogen economy. We assess to what extent the communication is consistent with the current state-of-the-art in hydrogen safety and the contemporary strength of knowledge in risk assessments for hydrogen systems. The approach adopted entails semi-quantitative text analysis and close reading to highlight variations between diverse groups of stakeholders. The results indicate a bias in the framing of the safety-related aspects of the hydrogen economy towards procedural, organisational and societal measures of risk reduction, at the expense of well-known challenges and knowledge gaps associated with the implications of fundamental safety-related properties of hydrogen.

Funding source: The authors gratefully acknowledge financial support from the University of Bergen.
Related subjects: Safety
Countries: Norway

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