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International Collaboration Focuses on Hydrogen Safety Sensors

A photo of scientific equipment in a laboratory setting

Technical staff at NREL's Safety Sensor Test Laboratory use this test chamber to assess hydrogen sensor performance

April 21, 2010

Scientists and engineers at the Safety Sensor Test Laboratory at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) are collaborating with the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) to assess the performance of various hydrogen sensor technologies. Because hydrogen is colorless and odorless, sensors are key safety equipment for fueling stations and other hydrogen facilities.

The Sensor Interlaboratory Comparison (SINTERCOM) Project features the independent assessment of commercial hydrogen sensors via round-robin testing at NREL and JRC. Both organizations are performing the assessments using mutually agreed upon test protocols based on international standards for hydrogen sensors.

“The first round of testing has been completed, and NREL and JRC have exchanged units for the second round of evaluations,” said NREL's William Buttner. “By independently testing the same sensors, both labs gain insight into their respective systems, facilitating improved testing capabilities, protocols, and data analysis.”

Technical staffers at NREL’s Safety Sensor Test Laboratory focus on closing sensor technology gaps and reaching specified sensor targets. NREL works with manufacturers to improve sensor performance and ensure that emerging commercial technologies meet end-user needs.

NREL’s Safety Sensor Test Laboratory was designed to test hydrogen sensors under precisely controlled conditions. Sensors are mounted in a stainless steel test chamber, which controls pressure, temperature, relative humidity, and gas composition. The apparatus can accommodate simultaneous testing of multiple sensors, and can handle all common electronic interfaces—voltage, current, resistance, controller area network, and serial communication. The lab is set up for around-the-clock operation; tests can be run and monitored remotely via the Internet.

NREL staffers visited JRC’s hydrogen sensor test facility in The Netherlands earlier this month. During the visit, the groups compared test procedures and results, proposed protocols for data analysis, and identified additional sensors for future assessment. NREL will present the latest results of the SINTERCOM Project at the National Hydrogen Association Conference in May.