Tank explosion poses setback for Seoul’s push for hydrogen economy

2019.05.24 13:50:29 | 2019.05.24 14:05:32

[Photo provided by Gangwon Fire Headquarters]이미지 확대

[Photo provided by Gangwon Fire Headquarters]

The South Korean government’s initiative to promote fuel cell industry as the country’s next growth engine has received a setback after a hydrogen tank explosion left casualties in the eastern city of Gangneung.

A hydrogen tank at Gangwon Technopark, a venture complex, in the eastern coastal city of Gangneung, exploded, leaving two people dead and six injured on Thursday evening. The explosion completely crashed down a 5,100-square-meter factory and partially destroyed another building in the complex.

Authorities suspect the explosion took place during a test run of hydrogen tanks that were installed as a part of state-backed research and development project.

The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy called the explosion an “unfortunate and unusual accident” that happened while testing a process of decomposing water into hydrogen and oxygen gas through electrolysis, which is yet to be standardized. It added there have been no accidents related to hydrogen charging stations for fuel-cell vehicles in the world, and those in the country were installed properly based on international safety standards.

Electrolysis, one of many methods to produce hydrogen, is considered as the most environmentally-friendly way, but the technology is still at development stage.

The Korean government has been actively promoting the so-called hydrogen economy in hopes to tackle fine dust pollution problem and also to provide new growth momentum to local economy. It has been supporting various fuel cell projects including building fuel cell generators and setting up hydrogen charging stations across the country. In the beginning of this year, it unveiled a roadmap of expanding the country’s production of hydrogen-powered electric vehicles to 100,000 units by 2025. There currently are fewer than 2,000 units produced in the country.

By Lim Sung-hyun and Cho Jeehyun

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