Minimising the Risks and Pollution Caused by the Leakage of Hydrogen Through Pipelines via Detection and Prediction


The Climate Change Act requires significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, this creates strong incentives for using a carbon-free energy supply. Alternatives to carbon-based fuels will be required not only in electricity generation but also in the full energy system: in our buildings, industry, and transportation. Hydrogen is set to play a key role in the UK’s full energy system, there are plans to use it as a heating/natural gas replacement solution for UK dwellings, in reducing emissions from industrial heat (for example, in furnaces), as a replacement for the natural gas used in power generation, and in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. it is estimated that the hydrogen demand from industry will reach 115 TWh/year by 2050 (Silvian Baltac, 2019)

The most efficient way to transport the large quantities of hydrogen required is by pipeline. The pipeline transportation of hydrogen is a fundamental technology that will underpin a large proportion of future applications. The scale of this undertaking has never been attempted before anywhere in the world and presents key scientific challenges that need to be resolved immediately. The key problem is how to transport the massive volumes of hydrogen from its production sites to its required destinations in a safe manner with minimal damage caused to the environment. Hydrogen is a small molecule with high buoyancy, which means there is an increased risk of leakage through pipes during transportation. Hydrogen is an extremely powerful fuel that can ignite with very low energy input, therefore it is critical that hydrogen pipelines are inspected regularly to detect defects to prevent failures and consequently damage and pollution to the surrounding environment. Pipeline inline inspection tools are commonly used in the industry to ensure leaks and failures do not occur. However, none exist for operation in hydrogen pipelines.

Pipeline in-line inspection enables defects to be detected before they can cause a pipeline failure. Defects detection and monitoring can prevent any hydrogen pollution and damage to the environment. A new pipeline inspection tool will be developed in this project which is optimised for safe operation in hydrogen pipelines.

The data collected during the testing of the inspection tool will be used to create a model capable of predicting the expected rate and frequency of hydrogen leakage along a pipeline. This model will be based on a probabilistic approach and will be able to be used by hydrogen pipeline operators and regulatory bodies as part of an environmental risk analysis for transporting large volumes of hydrogen.

The overall aims of the project are to create a hydrogen pipeline integrity framework, which includes a hydrogen pipeline inspection tool capable of detecting defects before a leakage occurs so that leakages are prevented. This investigation will leverage existing knowledge in pipeline inspection, while the requirement specifications for hydrogen pipeline inspection will be identified to inform a new inspection tool design and analysis model.

To achieve these aims, the project will address four objectives:
1. Investigate the failure modes of hydrogen pipelines, to inform the definition of an inspection specification.
2. Research into the design and operational parameters of hydrogen pipelines.
3. Define a set of requirement specifications.
4. Design, build and validate a benchtop level prototype.
5. Create a predictive model for hydrogen transportation leakage.


The following approaches will be used to address the project’s objectives:
1) A literature review on the pathways of hydrogen leakage through materials, the leakage of hydrogen from static facilities (such as nuclear power plants and hydrogen fuel cells), the expected operating conditions of hydrogen pipelines (including pressure, temperature and flow rate) and the most common failure mechanisms.
2) A prototype detection system will be built and tested under realistic conditions
3) Inspection data will be created through bench level testing on sample defects.
4) The inspection data will be used to validate the predictive models and to quantify its performance.
5) To make a wider impact, the results of the project will be presented to relevant hydrogen pipeline operators and regulators in the UK, which will include The Environment Agency, The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), National Grid and The Welding Institute.

Project Timeline

Year 1

During the first year, an extensive literature review will be conducted to obtain any useful information on the mechanisms of hydrogen pipeline failures and define the requirement specifications for an inspection tool. The student will also carry out research into the existing pipeline inspection tools and identify any gaps with the hydrogen pipeline inspection requirements.

Year 2

In the second year, the student will devise a predictive model for defects detection, define a test plan for validation and performance quantification and build a benchtop prototype detection system.

Year 3

In this year, the student will perform the test plan. Dissemination of the results of the project, which will be in the form of giving talks to relevant industry and regulators and writing publications based on the work done in years 1, 2 and 3.

Year 3.5

Writing and submission of the thesis.

& Skills

The student will receive the necessary training to ensure they are equipped with the technical and research skills needed to support fieldwork and their development as an independent researcher. Training in laboratory testing and programming, including developing sensors and developing probabilistic models, will be provided. The student will also spend time sourcing test materials and may have travel to other sites or other universities.

References & further reading

Silvian Baltac, E. D. (2019). Study 1: Hydrogen for economic growth. Element Energy.
Committee on Climate Change, Hydrogen in a low-carbon economy, 2018.
A. Wang, K. van der Leun, D. Peters, M. Buseman, European Hydrogen Backbone, Guidehouse, 2020.
W. McDowall and M. Eames, Transitions to a UK Hydrogen Economy, UKSHEC Social Science Working Paper No. 19, July 2006.
ARUP, Establishing a Hydrogen Economy. The Future of Energy 2035.
R. Derwent et al, Global environmental impacts of the hydrogen economy, Int. J. Nuclear Hydrogen Production and Application, Vol. 1, No. 1, 2006.
S. Okazaki et al, Sensing characteristics of an optical fiber sensor for hydrogen leak, Sensors and Actuators B: Chemical Volume 93, Issues 1–3, 1 August 2003, Pages 142-147.
N. Javahiraly, Review on hydrogen leak detection: comparison between fiber optic sensors based on different designs with palladium, Optical Engineering, 54(3), 030901 (2015).
A. Ingimundarson et al, Model-Based Detection of Hydrogen Leaks in a Fuel Cell Stack, IEEE Transactions on Control Systems Technology, vol. 16, no. 5, September 2008.
S. Elaoud, L. Hadj-Taieb, E. hadj-Taieb, Leak detection of hydrogen–natural gas mixtures in pipes using the characteristics method of specified time intervals, Journal of Loss Prevention in the Process Industries Volume 23, Issue 5, September 2010, Pages 637-645.

Further Information

For further information please contact Dr Ben Wetenhall ( or Prof Gui Yun Tian (

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