Hydrogen Sensor

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Metrics Table

Technology Accessibility Compatibility with existing consumer technologies 0-4 N/A depends on sensor type all
Number of companies selling the technology number - N/A all
Probability of market co-existence with current (competing) technology 0-4 N/A - all
Capacity & Availability Capacity to meet user’s needs (e.g. Performance and acceleration of vehicle) 0-4 N/A - all
Number of hours per year during which technology is available hours/year - N/A all
Durability of technology hours - 10000 hrs, at 90% deterioration of sensor output (experimental) Transport
- Stable response over 100 days for 1% H2 in air (micro sensor) all
(click here for more datails)
Capital investment for technology EUR - € 15-22[1] all
Cost of ownership for consumers (for eg. Maintenance) EUR / year - N/A all
Cost per unit of energy from technology EUR / kW - N/A all
Safety Technology breakdown (including misuse) no. / year - N/A all
Severity of failure 0-4 N/A - all


Hydrogen sensors are used as a safety device to detect the hydrogen gas leakage, if any, or as a hydrogen monitoring device during normal (storage/converter) operation. Hydrogen monitoring is necessary for fuel cell applications, where hydrogen concentration is an important issue, as well as for the applications where hydrogen is an undesirable contaminant.

Some of the main characteristics of the sensors are gas selectivity, lower detection limit, response time, recovery time, linear and dynamic range, repeatability, effects of environmental conditions (temperature, humidity etc.), durability and stability of the sensor as well as calibration and maintenance requirements. These are the main factors influencing sensor selection.

A sensor should be able to operate quickly and reliably in a wide range of oxygen and moisture concentration. Unfortunately such sensors are not available at present. The available hydrogen sensors are mostly bulky and expensive and some are dangerous. The sensors working at elevated temperatures pose a danger of bursting due to high input of electrical energy for sensor operation.

Many types of sensors have been developed till now, such as electrochemical sensors, metal oxide sensors or "pellistor" type combustible gas sensors. They have different fields of applications. A detector developed at a Japanese research centre has shown a 10000 hours operation time with 90% deterioration of its output. Another experimental micro-sensor gives a stable response over 100 day @ 1% H2 in air.

The table below shows typical hydrogen gas detectors.

Type of detector Description
Catalytic A palladium and/or platinum catalyst is used to facilitate the combustion of hydrogen with oxygen. A sensing element detects the heat of combustion.
Electro chemical Liquid or solid electrolytes surrounding a sensing electrode and a counter electrode. Reaction with hydrogen product produces a current. The hydrogen gas must flow through a gas permeable membrane to reach the electrolyte.
Semi conducting oxide Hydrogen gas reacts with chemisorbed oxygen in a semiconductor material, such as tin oxide, and changes the resistance of the material.
Thermal conductivity The rate of heat conduction from a heat source into the surrounding environment is dependent on the thermal conductivity of that environment.
Mass spectrometer The gas is ionized and then accelerated through an

electric field along a curved path. The amount of curvature induced by the electric field is dependent on the mass of the particle and is used to separate the particles by mass. A detector is placed in the path of the desired gas to be measured.

Sonic Leaking gas can produce acoustical emissions in the

range of 30 to 100 kHz, with 40 kHz being the most common.

Optical The differences in the refractive index of various

gases can be used for detection in sensors using optical interferometry.

Glow plugs Glow plugs are not a true gas detection technique.

When a combustible gas mixture exists, the glow plug ignites the mixture and then the fire is detected with heat sensors.

Table: Typical hydrogen gas detectors

Key Issues

Many of today’s sensors for hydrogen are too large for use in road vehicles. Although this is a simple engineering issue, it is to be addressed. Fail-safe operation of the sensors is also an issue that has not been addressed.

Data Lacking

Reliable data about costs and safety of sensors are at the moment not available.


  • Woosuck Shin, Maiko Nishibori, Lionel F. Houlet, Kazuki Tajima, Toshio Itoh, Noriya Izu, Ichiro Matsubara
    Robust Thermoelectric Hydrogen Sensors with Ceramic Catalyst
    WHEC 16, Lyon France, 13 - 16 June 2006
  • Hiroki Ishihara, Hiroteru Kato, Masateru Nishimura, Mitsuyoshi Anzai, Tatsuo Sunayama, (Yazaki Research and Technology Center, Yazaki Corporation)
    Fast Response Hydrogen Gas Detector
    The 22nd International Battery, Hybrid and Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle Symposium & Exposition (EVS-22), Yokohama, Japan, Oct. 23-28, 2006
  • Baronov G.S., Grigoriev S.A., Kalinnikov A.A., Nikolaev I.I. and Fateev V.N.
    Development of hydrogen safety system
    WHEC 16, Lyon France, 13 - 16 June 2006
  • Suzuki, A. Kurokawa, and H. Nonaka
    Hydrogen Sensing Method with a Quartz Sensor
    WHEC 16, Lyon France, 13 - 16 June 2006
  • A.Z. Adamyan, Z.N. Adamyan, V.M. Aroutiounian, A.H. Arakelyan, A.S. Stepanyan
    Metal-oxide Hydrogen Sensor for Fuel-Cell Applications
    WHEC 16, Lyon France, 13 - 16 June 2006
  • David L. Block, Ali T-Raissi
    NASA Hydrogen Research at Florida Universities
    WHEC 16, Lyon France, 13 - 16 June 2006
  • Takafumi Sato, Richard Fink, Igor Pavlovsky, Toshikazu Takatsu, Masanori Hori, Tsuneyuki Sato, Naotsugu Itoh
    Hydrogen sensor comprising of palladium nano-particles
    WHEC 16, Lyon France, 13 - 16 June 2006
  • Aroutiounian V.
    Metal oxide hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon monoxide sensors for hydrogen setups and cells. Int J Hydrogen Energy (2007)


  1. Fuel cells Bulletin, vol. 2005, Issue 3, page 3
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