Researchers Develop Tiny Self-Powered Hydrogen Sensor

This content is excerpted from Sensor Technology Alert and Newsletter, a sensor intelligence service published by the Technical Insights unit of Frost & Sullivan.

Sensor Technology Alert The growing importance of hydrogen, perceived as a potential candidate to address energy requirements, has led a team of more than a dozen University of Florida engineering faculty and graduate students to find a way to detect hydrogen leaks and sound an alarm via wireless communication using a tiny, inexpensive sensing device. Leading the research is Jenshan Lin, associate professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Florida. He told Sensor Technology, "The main sensing principle behind the latest developed hydrogen sensing technique is the use of low-power nanoscale solid state sensors. More specifically, it is a ZnO [zinc oxide] nanowire sensor. In addition, we also use low power electronic circuits to process and transmit the sensor data wirelessly. Instead of using a battery, energy harvesters are used to power the sensor device and electronic circuits."

When compared to similar work in this area, the developed sensor can operate at room temperature whereas others can require heating. Additionally, these sensors can be reused. The researchers have demonstrated an integrated sensor system with wireless data transmission capability and self-powering capability. Some specific, potential applications of the latest sensors developed could include hydrogen-powered vehicles, fuel cells, hydrogen production plants, and hydrogen storage tanks where safety is an important priority. The self-powered hydrogen sensor system can be easily deployed and will have low maintenance cost. There is no need to replace the battery on each sensor node.

Lin adds, "As far as future developments are concerned, more field tests outside of the labs is one of our main objectives. Working on these lines, currently, we are testing the sensors in a major automaker's service facility in Orlando. And, to take developments at our end to the next level, we're open to industry collaborations and [are] actively seeking partners. Our primary focus in this regard is more so in the area of licensing the developed technology and sensor manufacture for commercial use. Finally, [we are looking for] investors to fund a start-up company to bring the technology to market."

This project has been funded under the Hydrogen Research Program by NASA, following the identification of hydrogen for a number of diverse applications and its use in fuel cells, cars, hydrogen filling stations, distribution pumps and pipes, and other engineering elements of hydrogen infrastructure--possibly replacing today's gasoline-based infrastructure. As envisioned, the results of this research and others under the NASA program will facilitate the ability to detect hydrogen leaks in facilities and infrastructure by deploying a large number of sensors, which will also help prevent accidents--making hydrogen usage safe.

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