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Project lead: gas sensors for safety in hydrogen and fuel cell technology


Hydrogen is recognized as an important option for climate-friendly energy production and utilization. Accordingly, there will be a large number of hydrogen-powered fuel cells for both stationary and mobile applications in the future. One of the most important and challenging application will be for Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs). Neither the driver nor the general public should have to worry about safety associated with the use of hydrogen. Since hydrogen is an odourless and colourless gas with a lower flammable limit of four per cent by volume, sensors will be needed to detect its presence. A number of hydrogen sensors are required to assure FCEV safety, including sensors for the detection of leaks in fuel cells, tanks and vehicle cabins, as well as for infrastructure (for example fuelling, storage, and transport facilities). To minimize the hazards associated with unintended hydrogen releases, the sensors must respond reliably. They must be sensitive, accurate, fast, and not prone to false alarms. Since hydrogen fuelling will probably be performed - next to conventional fuelling operations, on-board hydrogen safety sensors must not trigger an alarm when petrol or diesel is fuelled next door. These are the copious and challenging requirements, which will be explicitly addressed through a recently launched international project - H2Sense.

H2Sense is funded jointly by the European public-private joint venture FCH JU (Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking) and by the EU. In "H2Sense", six partners have formed a consortium to address the hydrogen safety sensor needs for FCEVs and other applications. The consortium includes BAM Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing, which is coordinating the project, the Joint Research Centre Institute for Energy and Transport in the Netherlands, the Baden-Württemberg Centre for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research (ZSW), and private companies including the German companies Environmental Sensor Technology (USW), AppliedSensor GmbH, and Sensitron S.r.l. from Italy.

For the first time in a project funded by the FCH JU, promoting the exchange of knowledge, experience and know how has started explicitly with the collaboration of a U.S. consortium headed by the U.S. Department of Energy and two of its laboratories (National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Los Alamos National Laboratory). The aim of the project is to show the development of affordable and reliable hydrogen sensors and to demonstrate that such sensors can contribute to the safe use of hydrogen as an alternative energy source. Although the consortium will also deal with possible barriers to the use of sensors, for instance, dealing with different standards that can currently impede the spread of hydrogen sensors.

The first step of H2Sense will be an international market analysis of commercial hydrogen sensors. There are many different models of commercial hydrogen sensors, which differ not only in price but in the methodology of gas detection. Regardless of platform type or cost, all sensors must function reliably and safely, whether installed in a car, in a laboratory or in a factory. Accordingly, the market analysis will include the various sensor features and specifications. The sensor specifications will therefore be compared to the specific requirements they need to meet when being used.

H2Sense will provide assistance to the partnership's sensors manufacturers for one year after completing the project to help produce improved sensors and to market them better - and at lower costs. For this purpose, manufacturing techniques and signal processing will be analysed and laboratory evaluations carried out under various test conditions to determine sensor properties. BAM has many years of experience with hydrogen sensor development, will lead this assessment. In addition, BAM tests and certifies hydrogen detectors and sensors for their reliability.

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Source: Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)