Skip to main content

Fuel Cell Technologies

Development and Testing of Low-Cost Hydrogen Leak Detection

Company Name: Element One, Inc.
Program Office: Fuel Cells
Location: Boulder, CO
Award Amount ($): $100,000
Project Term: 12 months
Project Status: Active
Participating Lab(s): National Renewable Energy Laboratory


Evolving our energy system is essential for reducing harmful greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. Hydrogen can play an important part in the evolution to cleaner fuels, but safety remains a concern. The detection of unintended hydrogen releases is recognized as a critical element in the safety design for any hydrogen system. As hydrogen and fuel cells start to play a larger role in our energy infrastructure and transportation system, minimizing safety hazards related to the use of hydrogen as a fuel is critical.

Current hydrogen sensor systems are expensive and do not accurately pinpoint the source of leaks. Element One is developing low-cost, durable sensors that can be deployed at potential leak sites and enable the transition to clean hydrogen fuel. This technology will be of paramount importance for enabling hydrogen-powered fuel-cell electric vehicles, given greater consumer interface and the accompanying concern for safety.


Element One's innovations will have widespread applications, providing an economical, extra margin of safety for hydrogen systems including storage tanks, refueling connections, fuel cells and dispensing stations. They will prove useful in monitoring connecting hardware, piping connections, hoses, and hydrogen storage facilities. The low-cost product can be deployed at every potential leak site, in contrast to much more expensive electronic sensors, which are typically deployed to monitor large areas.

In addition, Element One’s films can be deposited in the shape of symbols or words to produce lettering that appears when the film is exposed to hydrogen. This ensures that a leak or flammable mixture would be readily recognized by the untrained eye.

To fully commercialize Element One’s low-cost hydrogen leak detection product, the sensors must be fully characterized and optimized for cost and performance. They must also be tested for failure mechanisms. The technology will be tested in the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Hydrogen Sensor Laboratory.


Information resulting from this project is critical for preparing low-cost, durable and accurate hydrogen-sensing products for market entry. If successful, the technology will increase safety while boosting efficiency and productivity by minimizing downtime due to hydrogen leaks. This will enable the transition to a low-carbon hydrogen energy infrastructure and transportation system.

Read about additional projects.