Hydrogen is a promising clean energy fuel. However, it’s highly flammable when mixed with air. The development of hydrogen-powered technologies has been severely limited by this factor.
Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology have recently developed a solution, however, in the form of a fast-detecting, ultra-accurate sensor. This groundbreaking advancement may support the expansion of hydrogen-powered vehicle markets and an increase in deployments of renewable energy sources like fuel cells.
Because hydrogen is both invisible and odorless, detecting it is a challenge. Yet a 4% airborne concentration produces hyper-flammable oxyhydrogen gas. Therefore, in order to make hydrogen vehicles and fueling infrastructure safe, researchers have worked to develop precision sensors able to detect extremely small amounts of hydrogen and quick enough to detect leaks before gases ignite.
The team of Chalmers University researchers, led by physics professor Christoph Langhammer, developed an optical nanosensor that is coated in a sophisticated plastic. The plastic exterior serves several key functions: it allows hydrogen molecules into the metal particles where they can be detected while also serving as an environmental barrier that keeps other molecules from entering and fouling the sensor. It is capable of perceiving 0.1% hydrogen in the air in less than a second. “We have not only developed the world's fastest hydrogen sensor, but also a sensor that is stable over time and does not deactivate. Unlike today's hydrogen sensors, our solution does not need to be recalibrated as often, as it is protected by the plastic,” said researcher Ferry Nugroho. The team’s findings are published in Nature.
The sensor changes color when the amount of hydrogen in the environment changes. The technology is based on an optical phenomenon—a plasmon—which occurs when metal nanoparticles are illuminated and capture visible light. This tiny piece of nanotechnology has the potential to enable significant advancements in hydrogen-powered technologies and propel the industry forward.
“It feels great to be presenting a sensor that can hopefully be a part of a major breakthrough for hydrogen-powered vehicles. The interest we see in the fuel cell industry is inspiring,” explained Langhammer.
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