Risk Perception of an Emergent Technology: The Case of Hydrogen Energy

  • Rob Flynn University of Salford
  • Paul Bellaby University of Salford
  • Miriam Ricci University of Salford
Keywords: risk perception, hydrogen energy, emergent technology, public engagement, public attitudes, trust, uncertainty


Although hydrogen has been used in industry for many years as a chemical commodity, its use as a fuel or energy carrier is relatively new and expert knowledge about its associated risks is neither complete nor consensual. Public awareness of hydrogen energy and attitudes towards a future hydrogen economy are yet to be systematically investigated. This paper opens by discussing alternative conceptualisations of risk, then focuses on issues surrounding the use of emerging technologies based on hydrogen energy. It summarises expert assessments of risks associated with hydrogen. It goes on to review debates about public perceptions of risk, and in doing so makes comparisons with public perceptions of other emergent technologies—Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), Genetically Modified Organisms and Food (GM) and Nanotechnology (NT)—for which there is considerable scientific uncertainty and relatively little public awareness. The paper finally examines arguments about public engagement and "upstream" consultation in the development of new technologies. It is argued that scientific and technological uncertainties are perceived in varying ways and different stakeholders and different publics focus on different aspects or types of risk. Attempting to move public consultation further "upstream" may not avoid this, because the framing of risks and benefits is necessarily embedded in a cultural and ideological context, and is subject to change as experience of the emergent technology unfolds. URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0601194


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Author Biographies

Rob Flynn, University of Salford
Rob FLYNN is Professor of Sociology at the Institute for Social, Cultural and Policy Research, University of Salford. He has extensive experience in applied policy-oriented social research in urban and housing policy; local government studies; health policy and health services management. His current interest is in the relationship between expertise, risk and trust, and the regulation of professionals.
Paul Bellaby, University of Salford
Paul BELLABY is Professor of Sociology of Health at the Institute for Social, Cultural and Policy Research, University of Salford. His central interests currently concern lay encounters with risk to health and safety, how lay might diverge from expert assessments of risk and how to obtain agreement on what constitutes risk.
Miriam Ricci, University of Salford
Dr Miriam RICCI is Research Fellow at the Institute for Social, Cultural and Policy Research, University of Salford. Having initially trained as a physicist, she is currently interested in social and economic aspects of scientific and technological development.
Risk-communication, Media, Discourse