Automakers are still selling fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) in Norway despite a blast that wrecked a hydrogen filling station on Monday, sources confirmed.
Toyota and Hyundai were widely reported to have suspended Norwegian FCEV sales on Monday after hydrogen ignited and created a pressure wave that ripped through a station operated by Nel Hydrogen in Kjørbo, outside Oslo, injuring two.
But Toyota Motor Europe Senior Manager of Corporate Communications Mark Mildon told GTM that both carmakers had simply suspended deliveries, since all four hydrogen filling stations in the country had closed pending the outcome of accident investigations.
“We continue to sell hydrogen vehicles,” he said.
Current FCEV owners in Norway had been offered replacement vehicles until the refueling stations were able to reopen, he said. The root cause of the Kjørbo incident remains unclear. Nel Hydrogen did not respond to a request for information.
However, in a statement on Nel’s website, Geirmund Vislie, vice president consultant of safety consultancy Gexcon, said: “Based on what we have seen, we can conclude that neither the electrolyzer nor the dispenser used by customers had anything to do with this incident.”
Nel said the accident appeared to have been caused by leaking hydrogen catching fire. “No unit exploded at the site,” the company confirmed.
Nel also said there were no fatalities or on-site injuries in the incident. Police said two people were treated for minor injuries caused by airbags being activated in their nearby car, which was not a FCEV.
As a precautionary measure, Nel halted operations at all refueling stations using the same H2Station technology as Kjørbo. This resulted in the temporary closure of 10 European and U.S. stations, the company said. Nel has not said when the stations will reopen.
“The authorities are conducting a formal investigation and have stated publicly that this will take time,” Nel said. “We empathize deeply with the hydrogen customers who have been affected by this and are actively working to help resolve the situation as soon as possible.”
With the investigation now focusing on possible causes of the hydrogen leak, “our electrolyzer division will now return to business as usual,” said Jon André Løkke, Nel’s CEO.
Nel said its H2Station fueling stations in Europe, the U.S. and South Korea were designed to be as safe as conventional filling station pumps and complied with oil and gas industry codes and national and international standards.
Michela Bortolotti, communications manager with the European hydrogen and fuel cell association Hydrogen Europe, said the industry would be watching to see if lessons could be learned from the Kjørbo accident.
“Hydrogen is a hazardous substance,” she said, but “gasoline, diesel and natural gas are too. When handled correctly, hydrogen is just as safe as the other fuels, but less toxic and an indispensable component in achieving our climate goals.”
Hydrogen proponents say the gas is nontoxic and tends to disperse quickly if released, making it less likely to catch fire. It is also less combustible than gasoline, and if it does catch fire, the flames emit low radiant energy.
Furthermore, hydrogen has been widely used as an industrial chemical for the last 40 years, Bortolotti said. According to one 2010 estimate, between 45 and 50 metric tons of hydrogen are produced a year around the world, with 7.8 metric tons being made in Europe.
In addition, Bortolotti said, “several thousand” customer sites across Europe use bottled hydrogen.
And more than 1,000 semitrailers deliver at least 200 million cubic meters of the stuff across the continent every year “with an accident rate no different to that of any other gas,” she said.
Despite this, she said, “there are still misperceptions that spring from the absence of knowledge that hydrogen is already on the market.”
Notwithstanding claims that hydrogen is safer than conventional fuels, Bortolotti said the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking, an industrial public-private partnership in Europe, was looking to establish the world's first training program for hydrogen incident first responders.
The group’s HyResponse project would facilitate safer deployment of fuel cell and hydrogen systems and infrastructure, she said. “The sector takes this very seriously."