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Achieving electrical safety with hydrogen equipment

Hydrogen industry businesses may be involved in projects that require electrolysers as part of a hydrogen production installation or designing and installing hydrogen fuelling stations (refuellers).

Regardless of where these electrolysers are sourced, to meet Queensland regulatory requirements to be installed they must comply with Australian Standards and be electrically safe. Persons conducting a business or undertaking in Queensland must comply with the Electrical Safety Act 2002 to ensure all electrical equipment used, designed, manufactured, imported and supplied is electrically safe.

This means electrical installations or equipment in a hazardous area must be designed, constructed, operated and maintained so they cannot release enough energy to cause an ignition.

For equipment in hazardous areas in Queensland, meeting Australian Standards is demonstrated through certificates of conformity from the IECEx - IEC System for Certification to Standards Relating to Equipment for Use in Explosive Atmospheres. This certification also applies to imported electrical equipment regardless of any other type of approvals for sale overseas.

The IECEx system is not a regulatory framework - it is a scheme where certificates of conformity are issued by approved certification bodies (ExCBs). European ATEX Notified Bodies Group requirements are similar but not the same as ExCBs, and so in general are not accepted in Queensland (many ATEX Notified Bodies also operate as an ExCB).

An important difference is that ATEX does not require compliance with IEC Standards, whereas IECEx requires full compliance with the IEC Standard listed on the IECEx Certificate and independent quality checks, as verified by the ExCB.

If the electrolyser is intended for home installation, for example using electricity to produce hydrogen for storage and later use at that home, then it is in-scope for the Electrical Equipment Safety System (EESS) and the supplier must ensure the equipment meets the EESS requirements (EESS – Electrical Equipment Safety System).

Control ignition sources by:

  • ensuring imported plant is assessed for Australian compliance and Queensland laws for importers of plant or electrical equipment
  • ensuring a competent person determines the relevant hazardous area/s classification and extent of hazardous zones in and around equipment
  • ensuring changes to the operation or design of equipment associated with hazardous areas are suitably managed to re-assess the hazardous area classifications and zones (an example of an operation change is opening a vent/cover which is normally required to be air-tight during use of the equipment)
  • using suitably rated electrical equipment (intrinsically safe or flame-proof)
  • ensuring the installation is maintained and electrical equipment is properly earthed
  • considering the impact of the auto-ignition temperature and minimum ignition energy for hydrogen, as pure hydrogen has an auto-ignition temperature of 500°C (also understanding that due to the low ignition energy of hydrogen, leaks may ignite below this temperature from other influences such as static)
  • considering the buoyancy of hydrogen – leaks will tend to rise and rapidly dissipate (or spontaneously ignite)
  • where electrical installations or equipment needs to be located or used in hazardous areas, ensuring they are designed and constructed so they can’t release energy to cause an ignition (equipment designed and constructed to operate within hazardous areas must be supplied with documentation stating in which zone and temperature class it can operate, and have IECEx certificates of conformity issued by an approved ExCB)
  • keeping known, portable ignition sources (eg. cigarettes, mobile phones) out of hazardous areas using appropriate policies, training and signage
  • only using licensed electrical workers competent to install, service and maintain electrical equipment associated with hazardous areas
  • engaging an accredited auditor to sign off the installation before energisation (in Queensland, prior to electrical installations within hazardous areas being energised, they must be inspected by an accredited auditor appointed under the ES Act).

Position plant to ensure:

  • recommended separation distances (from manufacturer’s instructions, relevant standards or advanced engineering modelling) are maintained to reduce congestion and minimise the risk of an explosion
  • risks from hot plant and hot gases are controlled through restricted access, guarding or insulation
  • there is sufficient space for safe access to plant for operation, cleaning, maintenance, inspection and emergency evacuation
  • where required, the plant rests on a suitable and well drained foundation
  • hydrogen detectors are well located, considering the ventilation and likely leak sources
  • continuous monitoring, alarms and reporting are included in system and equipment designs
  • automatic shutdown of plant on detection of hydrogen
  • there are planned and documented calibration of detectors.

Read more on general operating conditions in the Hydrogen Safety code of practice published by Resources Health and Safety Queensland.

Engaging an accredited auditor

Under Queensland legislation, an accredited auditor must inspect electrical installations in hazardous areas before they are first connected or reconnected to electricity. The PCBUs must engage a Queensland accredited auditor to perform this work. Check auditor accreditation here.

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