Hydrogen is quickly becoming a global contender for alternative energy, but these applications actually account for less than 10% of global hydrogen consumption.[i] As the hydrogen economy grows, the world is rethinking the way that hydrogen is produced, transferred, and utilized.

In this article, we will look at both the historic leaders of global hydrogen consumption and the newer contenders for hydrogen technology and innovation.

About 55% of the hydrogen around the world goes to ammonia production; 25% is used in refining and about 10% is used to produce methanol. Other applications only account for only about 10%.

Historical Industrial Application.

For decades, hydrogen has been used primarily by the chemical and refining industries. End applications include:

  • Agricultural/Chemical Industry:
    Hydrogen is a fundamental raw material needed to produce ammonia (NH3), also known as azane, an important part of fertilizers used in agricultural industries around the world. Ammonia can also be used as an affordable, environmentally-friendly refrigerant (R-717).
  • Petroleum Refining Industry:
    Hydrogen is commonly used in hydrocracking to create petroleum products, including gasoline and diesel. It is also used to remove contaminants like sulphur and to create methanol (CH3OH).

Other Common Industry Applications of Hydrogen.

Hydrogen also has a long history of use in several other industries. These include:

  • Food:
    Hydrogen is used to turn unsaturated fats into to saturated oils and fats, including hydrogenated vegetable oils like margarine and butter spreads.
  • Metalworking:
    Hydrogen is used in multiple applications including metal alloying and iron flashmaking.
  • Welding:
    Atomic hydrogen welding (AHW) is a type of arc welding which utilizes a hydrogen environment.
  • Flat Glass Production:
    A mixture of hydrogen and nitrogen is used to prevent oxidation and therefore defects during manufacturing.
  • Electronics Manufacturing:
    As an efficient reducing and etching agent, hydrogen is used to create semiconductors, LEDs, displays, photovoltaic segments, and other electronics.
  • Medical:
    Hydrogen is used to create hydrogen peroxide (H2O2). Recently, hydrogen gas has also been studied as a therapeutic gas for a number of different diseases.

Personal hydrogen fuel cells electric vehicles (HFCEVs) like this one represent a fast-growing new industry for hydrogen consumption.

Hydrogen Energy Industry Applications.

Newly commercialized applications of hydrogen, like fuel cells, are opening all kinds of new opportunities in transportation and other energy-related industries. In some applications, hydrogen is used as an alternative combustible fuel. Notable growth areas include:

  • Space Exploration:
    Liquid hydrogen (LH2) fuel has played an important role in space exploration since NASA’s Apollo program, when it was first used in in the secondary stage of the Saturn rockets. Today its use is expanding to include government and commercial organizations like United Launch Alliance, Boeing, and Blue Origin.
  • Aviation:
    Several experimental programs have utilized hydrogen fuel cells in projects like the Pathfinder and Helios unmanned long duration aircraft. Recently, Airbus unveiled concepts for hydrogen-fueled “ZEROe” aircraft that utilize liquid hydrogen to power modified gas turbine engines.
  • Global Logistics:
    Dozens of companies with large warehouse and distribution needs are turning to hydrogen fuel cells to power trucks, forklifts, and more. Companies like Nikola Motors, Hyundai, Toyota, Kenworth Truck Co, and UPS have big aspirations for hydrogen powered trucks, vans, and semis.
  • Public Transportation:
    Hydrogen fuel cells are also being considered for other public transportation applications including trains and buses. Several major cities including Chicago, Vancouver, London, and Beijing have experimented with hydrogen powered buses. Hydrogen-powered trains have now appeared in Germany, and in the next five years, other models are expected to come to Great Britain, France, Italy, Japan, South Korea, and the United States.
  • Personal Transportation:
    Nine of the major auto manufacturers are developing hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) designed for personal use.
  • Power Generation:
    Hydrogen is already used for cooling power plant generators, but it also provides a promising means of electrical grid stabilization. Electrical energy can be turned into hydrogen through electrolysis, then stored and used in an end-use application like transportation.
  • Backup Power Generation:
    At a local level, stationary fuel cells are used as part of uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems, where continuous uptime is critical. Both hospitals and data centers are increasingly looking to hydrogen to meet their uninterruptible power supply needs.

In 2007, WHA investigated a catastrophic hydrogen explosion at the Muskingum River Power Plant. Due to a failed rupture disk on a storage vessel, a large quantity of hydrogen escaped and collected under a roof before it ignited, killing one and injuring 10 others.

WHA Industry Connections with Hydrogen.

WHA has long history with hydrogen safety, and many end applications also incorporate WHA’s unique expertise with oxygen as an oxidizer.

Many of WHA’s founding engineers began their careers at NASA, which pioneered early applications of hydrogen fuels and fuel cells. WHA Principal Chemist Dr. Harold Beeson actually served on the team that developed the NASA Standard for Hydrogen and Hydrogen Systems, which was later adapted into the AIAA Guide to Safety of Hydrogen and Hydrogen Systems.

WHA Mechanical and Forensic Engineer Dr. Dani Murphy also brings a wealth of experience from NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory) and the Colorado School of Mines, where she was involved in research on fuel cells, electrolyzers, and hydrogen infrastructure, including filing station design and safety.

For over 30 years, WHA has been investigating hydrogen incidents and using lessons learned to create new resources and services to help industry defend against hydrogen fires and explosions.

WHA Helps Keep Industry Safe around Hydrogen.

As the hydrogen industry grows, so do the risks. Many new applications of hydrogen utilize conditions previously rarely seen on large commercial scale. Transportation fuel cell systems, for example, often store hydrogen at pressures 70 MPa (10,000+ psi) or higher. Other liquid hydrogen applications operate with extreme cryogenic temperatures.

WHA offers hazard analysis, custom testing, and other specialized safety services to help  industry understand and defend against hydrogen fires and explosions.

Wherever hydrogen is used, it is especially important that personnel receive proper hazardous materials training. In fact, OSHA requires it. WHA helps clients meet and exceed this requirement by providing  multiple levels of hydrogen safety training from basic hazard awareness to advanced system design and risk analysis, all taught by WHA’s expert-level instructors.

No matter the industry or final application, WHA International is ready to support your hydrogen safety needs.


[i] https://hydrogeneurope.eu/hydrogen-applications

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