Nav: Home

World's fastest hydrogen sensor could pave the way for clean hydrogen energy

April 11, 2019

Hydrogen is a clean and renewable energy carrier that can power vehicles, with water as the only emission. Unfortunately, hydrogen gas is highly flammable when mixed with air, so very efficient and effective sensors are needed. Now, researchers from Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, present the first hydrogen sensors ever to meet the future performance targets for use in hydrogen powered vehicles.

The researchers' ground-breaking results were recently published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature Materials. The discovery is an optical nanosensor encapsulated in a plastic material. The sensor works based on an optical phenomenon - a plasmon - which occurs when metal nanoparticles are illuminated and capture visible light. The sensor simply changes colour when the amount of hydrogen in the environment changes.

The plastic around the tiny sensor is not just for protection, but functions as a key component. It increases the sensor's response time by accelerating the uptake of the hydrogen gas molecules into the metal particles where they can be detected. At the same time, the plastic acts as an effective barrier to the environment, preventing any other molecules from entering and deactivating the sensor. The sensor can therefore work both highly efficiently and undisturbed, enabling it to meet the rigorous demands of the automotive industry - to be capable of detecting 0.1 percent 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," says Ferry Nugroho, a researcher at the Department of Physics at Chalmers.

It was during his time as a PhD student that Ferry Nugroho and his supervisor Christoph Langhammer realised that they were on to something big. After reading a scientific article stating that no one had yet succeeded in achieving the strict response time requirements imposed on hydrogen sensors for future hydrogen cars, they tested their own sensor. They realised that they were only one second from the target - without even trying to optimise it. The plastic, originally intended primarily as a barrier, did the job better than they could have imagined, by also making the sensor faster. The discovery led to an intense period of experimental and theoretical work.

"In that situation, there was no stopping us. We wanted to find the ultimate combination of nanoparticles and plastic, understand how they worked together and what made it so fast. Our hard work yielded results. Within just a few months, we achieved the required response time as well as the basic theoretical understanding of what facilitates it," says Ferry Nugroho.

Detecting hydrogen is challenging in many ways. The gas is invisible and odourless, but volatile and extremely flammable. It requires only four percent hydrogen in the air to produce oxyhydrogen gas, sometimes known as knallgas, which ignites at the smallest spark. In order for hydrogen cars and the associated infrastructure of the future to be sufficiently safe, it must therefore be possible to detect extremely small amounts of hydrogen in the air. The sensors need to be quick enough that leaks can be rapidly detected before a fire occurs.

"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," says Christoph Langhammer, Professor at Chalmers Department of Physics.

Although the aim is primarily to use hydrogen as an energy carrier, the sensor also presents other possibilities. Highly efficient hydrogen sensors are needed in the electricity network industry, the chemical and nuclear power industry, and can also help improve medical diagnostics.

"The amount of hydrogen gas in our breath can provide answers to, for example, inflammations and food intolerances. We hope that our results can be used on a broad front. This is so much more than a scientific publication," says Christoph Langhammer.

In the long run, the hope is that the sensor can be manufactured in series in an efficient manner, for example using 3D printer technology.

Facts: The world's fastest hydrogen sensor
  • The Chalmers-developed sensor is based on an optical phenomenon - a plasmon - which occurs when metal nanoparticles are illuminated and capture light of a certain wavelength.
  • The optical nanosensor contains millions of metal nanoparticles of a palladium-gold alloy, a material which is known for its sponge-like ability to absorb large amounts of hydrogen. The plasmon effect then causes the sensor to change colour when the amount of hydrogen in the environment changes.
  • The plastic around the sensor is not only a protection, but also increases the sensor's response time by facilitating hydrogen molecules to penetrate the metal particles more quickly and thus be detected more rapidly. At the same time, the plastic acts as an effective barrier to the environment because no other molecules than hydrogen can reach the nanoparticles, which prevents deactivation.
  • The efficiency of the sensor means that it can meet the strict performance targets set by the automotive industry for application in hydrogen vehicles of the future by being capable of detecting 0.1 percent hydrogen in the air in less than one second.
  • The research was funded by the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research, within the framework of the Plastic Plasmonics project.
-end-
About the scientific article:

The article Metal - Polymer Hybrid Nanomaterials for Plasmonic Ultrafast Detection has been published in Nature Materials and is written by Chalmers researchers Ferry Nugroho, Iwan Darmadi, Lucy Cusinato, Anders Hellman, Vladimir P. Zhdanov and Christoph Langhammer. The results have been developed in collaboration with Delft Technical University in the Netherlands, the Technical University of Denmark and the University of Warsaw, Poland.

For more information:

Ferry Nugroho, Researcher, Department of Physics, Chalmers University of Technology, +46 31 772 54 21, ferryn@chalmers.se

Christoph Langhammer, Professor, Department of Physics, Chalmers University of Technology, +46 31 772 33 31, clangham@chalmers.se

Chalmers University of Technology

Related Nanoparticles Articles:

Cutting nanoparticles down to size -- new study
A new technique in chemistry could pave the way for producing uniform nanoparticles for use in drug delivery systems.
Study models new method to accelerate nanoparticles
In a new study, researchers at the University of Illinois and the Missouri University of Science and Technology modeled a method to manipulate nanoparticles as an alternative mode of propulsion for tiny spacecraft that require very small levels of thrust.
Actively swimming gold nanoparticles
Bacteria can actively move towards a nutrient source -- a phenomenon known as chemotaxis -- and they can move collectively in a process known as swarming.
Nanoparticles take a fantastic, magnetic voyage
MIT engineers have designed tiny robots that can help drug-delivery nanoparticles push their way out of the bloodstream and into a tumor or another disease site.
Quantum optical cooling of nanoparticles
One important requirement to see quantum effects is to remove all thermal energy from the particle motion, i.e. to cool it as close as possible to absolute zero temperature.
Nanoparticles help realize 'spintronic' devices
For the first time researchers have demonstrated a new way to perform functions essential to future computation three orders of magnitude faster than current commercial devices.
Directed evolution builds nanoparticles
Directed evolution is a powerful technique for engineering proteins. EPFL scientists now show that it can also be used to engineer synthetic nanoparticles as optical biosensors, which are used widely in biology, drug development, and even medical diagnostics such as real-time monitoring of glucose.
What happens to magnetic nanoparticles once in cells?
Although magnetic nanoparticles are being used more and more in cell imaging and tissue bioengineering, what happens to them within stem cells in the long term remained undocumented.
Watching nanoparticles
Stanford researchers retooled an electron microscope to work with visible light and gas flow, making it possible to watch a photochemical reaction as it swept across a nanoparticle the size of a single cold virus.
Nanoparticles to treat snakebites
Venomous snakebites affect 2.5 million people, and annually cause more than 100,000 deaths and leave 400,000 individuals with permanent physical and psychological trauma each year.
More Nanoparticles News and Nanoparticles Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Accessing Better Health
Essential health care is a right, not a privilege ... or is it? This hour, TED speakers explore how we can give everyone access to a healthier way of life, despite who you are or where you live. Guests include physician Raj Panjabi, former NYC health commissioner Mary Bassett, researcher Michael Hendryx, and neuroscientist Rachel Wurzman.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#543 Give a Nerd a Gift
Yup, you guessed it... it's Science for the People's annual holiday episode that helps you figure out what sciency books and gifts to get that special nerd on your list. Or maybe you're looking to build up your reading list for the holiday break and a geeky Christmas sweater to wear to an upcoming party. Returning are pop-science power-readers John Dupuis and Joanne Manaster to dish on the best science books they read this past year. And Rachelle Saunders and Bethany Brookshire squee in delight over some truly delightful science-themed non-book objects for those whose bookshelves are already full. Since...
Now Playing: Radiolab

An Announcement from Radiolab