Ultra-Fast and Ultra-Sensitive Hydrogen Sensor

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A KAIST team made an ultra-fast hydrogen sensor that can detect hydrogen gas levels under 1% in less than seven seconds. The sensor also can detect hundreds of parts per million levels of hydrogen gas within 60 seconds at room temperature.

A research group under Professor Il-Doo Kim in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at KAIST, in collaboration with Professor Reginald M. Penner of the University of California-Irvine, has developed an ultra-fast hydrogen gas detection system based on a palladium (Pd) nanowire array coated with a metal-organic framework (MOF).

Hydrogen has been regarded as an eco-friendly next-generation energy source. However, it is a flammable gas that can explode even with a small spark. For safety, the lower explosion limit for hydrogen gas is 4 vol% so sensors should be able to detect the colorless and odorless hydrogen molecule quickly. The importance of sensors capable of rapidly detecting colorless and odorless hydrogen gas has been emphasized in recent guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Energy. According to the guidelines, hydrogen sensors should detect 1 vol% of hydrogen in air in less than 60 seconds for adequate response and recovery times.

To overcome the limitations of Pd-based hydrogen sensors, the research team introduced a MOF layer on top of a Pd nanowire array. Lithographically patterned Pd nanowires were simply overcoated with a Zn-based zeolite imidazole framework (ZIF-8) layer composed of Zn ions and organic ligands. ZIF-8 film is easily coated on Pd nanowires by simple dipping (for 2–6 hours) in a methanol solution including Zn (NO3)2·6H2O and 2-methylimidazole.

As synthesized ZIF-8 is a highly porous material composed of a number of micro-pores of 0.34 nm and 1.16 nm, hydrogen gas with a kinetic diameter of 0.289 nm can easily penetrate inside the ZIF-8 membrane, while large molecules (> 0.34 nm) are effectively screened by the MOF filter. Thus, the ZIF-8 filter on the Pd nanowires allows the predominant penetration of hydrogen molecules, leading to the acceleration of Pd-based H2 sensors with a 20-fold faster recovery and response speed compared to pristine Pd nanowires at room temperature.

Professor Kim expects that the ultra-fast hydrogen sensor can be useful for the prevention of explosion accidents caused by the leakage of hydrogen gas. In addition, he expects that other harmful gases in the air can be accurately detected through effective nano-filtration by using of a variety of MOF layers.


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