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Techno Chronicle | The scary hydrogen: an optical sensor to the rescue



In our quest to find clean and renewable energies as quickly as possible, hydrogen comes to the fore for the interest we devote to it, as well as for the research devoted to it in order to prepare for its arrival in our daily lives. . And for good reason.

Among the green energies in sight, hydrogen remains the one with the greatest potential to save the planet by eliminating carbon from the heavy transport sector. With hydrogen as a fuel, no more carbon in the hydrogen trains, trucks and planes that are already developed and about to spread around the world.

What’s more, if hydrogen took over to supply manufacturing plants for certain materials such as steel, instead of fossil fuels, just imagine what we could improve on the environmental level.

A certain danger

That said, when we think of the idea of ​​finding hydrogen on our roads, there remains a major challenge. Before we, as motorists, welcome hydrogen to power our vehicles, the automotive industry will have to work hard to counter the fear of this material, which is explosive if it comes into contact with air. .

In this regard, it should be noted that a rate of hydrogen in the air of only 4% is necessary for the mixture to risk igniting at the slightest spark. It is therefore quite understandable that everything relating to the use and storage of hydrogen remains a sensitive subject.

In a previous column, I discussed one of the solutions being considered for refueling vehicles with the advent of hydrogen in a tube, a process that resembles toothpaste and should save a lot of hassle.

But beyond this “powerpaste”, to reduce the risks and allay fears, it is certain that we will also have to find a way to detect any leak, no matter how small, in the event of a breakage on our car at hydrogen.


The hydrogen-powered Toyota Mirai

That’s why we’re paying special attention to an innovation that comes from researchers at three major universities in Sweden, Amsterdam and Eindhoven, the Netherlands, researchers who worked together and developed an optical sensor capable of to detect any hydrogen leak.

This new sensor is among the most sensitive devices in the world and could significantly help hydrogen gain acceptance. Because if this tool makes it possible to detect a leak as soon as it occurs, it can be repaired quickly and this will prevent a vehicle from becoming unusable or a factory having to close its doors.

Let’s say that these ultra-sensitive sensors could help hydrogen to travel a long way to us and finally be used as fuel.

How it works…

This optical hydrogen sensor is made up of a multitude of metallic nanoparticles that work together to detect hydrogen in their environment.

In fact, the whole thing is based on an optical phenomenon. When these nanoparticles capture light, they give the particles a distinct color. For example, if the nanoparticles are made of palladium, their color will change as soon as the quantity of hydrogen varies. However, if the levels become critical, the sensor will quickly trigger an alarm.

The design of this sensor differs from what has been done in the past in that the researchers this time used advanced artificial intelligence technology to create the optimal interaction between the particles, based on their distance, diameter and thickness.

With this technology, the sensor is able to detect any change in hydrogen concentration, no matter how small. We are talking here about a few hundred thousandths of 1%.

For the detection to be so sensitive, however, the particles must be arranged in a regular and rigorously defined pattern, which is what this sensor offers us. There have indeed been sensors of this type before, but the particles had a random arrangement and, therefore, less sensitivity.

A valuable collaboration

It is good to see how collaboration between the research community and the automotive industry can take hydrogen technology to the next level, sufficient to meet the needs and challenges of car manufacturers.

Note, this applies just as much to research related to the propulsion of heavy vehicles or aircraft using hydrogen. When we learn that an electric plane with a range of 500 kilometers could increase to a range of 3000 kilometers if it were powered by hydrogen, we understand how much everything concerning the development of hydrogen is follow.

Knowing all that this green energy could replace on the planet and what advances it can represent in terms of the environment, it would be nice to be able to adopt it with complete peace of mind.

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