Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

For the future hydrogen economy, a tiny, self-powered sensor

29.05.2006


Hydrogen has been called “the fuel of the future.” But the gas is invisible, odorless and explosive at high concentrations, posing a safety problem for hydrogen-powered cars, filling stations and other aspects of the so-called hydrogen economy.



Now, a team of more than a dozen University of Florida engineering faculty and graduate students has found a way to jump that hurdle: a tiny, inexpensive sensor device that can detect hydrogen leaks and sound the alarm by wireless communication.

The cool part? The device, called a sensor node because it is designed to work in tandem with dozens or hundreds more like it, has the ability to draw its power from a tiny internal power source that harvests energy from small vibrations. That means future versions could one day operate continuously without batteries or maintenance when affixed to cars, refrigerators, pumps, motors or any other machine that gives off a slight vibration.


“You need lots of hydrogen sensors to detect leaks, but you don’t want to have to maintain them or change the battery every couple of months,” said Jenshan Lin, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and the lead investigator on the NASA-funded sensor project. “Our sensor can operate completely independently.”

Lin and his colleagues developed the sensor node over the past two years as a part of the NASA Hydrogen Research Program at UF. The program spans several research projects. NASA uses liquid hydrogen to fuel the space shuttle, and the goal of the $1 million-plus sensor project is to help the space agency improve the safety and reliability of all its hydrogen systems.

The card deck-sized sensor node has been tested successfully in a UF laboratory, and researchers say the next step is to miniaturize it and test it at NASA labs and in field conditions. But its long-range applications potentially go far beyond NASA to the development of hydrogen as an increasingly important fuel source, perhaps even in the family car.

Hydrogen is the principal energy source in fuel cells, the futuristic, non-polluting power devices that President Bush has targeted as a leading alternative to fossil fuels. Bush in 2003 launched the $1.2 billion Hydrogen Fuel Initiative aimed at making the technology commercially viable. That effort faces huge challenges, not the least of which is finding energy-efficient ways to extract hydrogen from water, where it is most abundant.

The handful of fuel cell-powered cars and buses on the road today could become far more common if those challenges are overcome. But for that to happen, the nation will need hydrogen filling stations, distribution pumps and pipes, and other engineering elements of a mammoth hydrogen infrastructure replacing today’s gasoline-based infrastructure.

That’s where the UF sensor node could play a role.

“You will need to have sensors all over the place – if there is a leak, you can see which ones light up, and where the leak is, and how quickly it is spreading. That way you can shut off valves and avoid a major problem,” said Steve Pearton, a professor of materials science and engineering and one of the faculty members on the project.

UF materials, electrical and chemical engineering researchers all had a hand in crafting the node. The materials and chemical researchers came up with the sensor, which is based on zinc oxide nanorods – what Pearton called “whiskers” of zinc oxide through which pass an extremely tiny electrical current. The more hydrogen surrounding these whiskers, the more conductive they become, providing a way to measure the ambient hydrogen in the air.

The electrical engineering researchers figured out how to amplify the signal enough to make it readable by a microcontroller. They also developed a tiny wireless transmitter to send the information to a central base station. The electrical engineers further found ways to power the device either through conventional solar cells or a “piezo-electric vibrational energy harvesting system” that draws on energy from vibrations produced by a variety of mechanical and electrical equipment.

Laboratory tests of the node, attached and energized by the vibrations of a mechanical shaker, showed that it could detect hydrogen concentrations of as little as 10 parts per million and successfully transmit the information as far as 20 meters, or about 65 feet. Ten parts per million is well below the level at which hydrogen becomes explosive.

Papers about the different technologies within the sensor node have appeared in academic journals in recent years, but the complete sensor was for the first time presented in its entirety at a conference late last month at a conference in Orlando.

The other UF faculty members on the project are Khai Ngo, Toshikazu Nishida and Jing Guo, professor, associate professor and assistant professor, respectively, of electrical engineering; Fan Ren, professor of chemical engineering; and Dave Norton, professor of materials science and engineering. Numerous graduate students also participated.

Jenshan Lin | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.ufl.edu

More articles from Power and Electrical Engineering:

nachricht A big nano boost for solar cells
18.01.2017 | Kyoto University and Osaka Gas effort doubles current efficiencies

nachricht Multiregional brain on a chip
16.01.2017 | Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

All articles from Power and Electrical Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Traffic jam in empty space

New success for Konstanz physicists in studying the quantum vacuum

An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Sustainable Water use in Agriculture in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

19.01.2017 | Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Helmholtz International Fellow Award for Sarah Amalia Teichmann

20.01.2017 | Awards Funding

An innovative high-performance material: biofibers made from green lacewing silk

20.01.2017 | Materials Sciences

Ion treatments for cardiac arrhythmia — Non-invasive alternative to catheter-based surgery

20.01.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>