From Russia with love
Russian research capabilities are advancing the hydrogen economy
Apollo’s new tiny Russian-designed hydrogen gas sensor would be ideal for safety detection systems in futuristic hydrogen-powered cars.
Ensuring that hydrogen-burning
engines are explosion-proof is one of
the barriers to establishing a hydrogen
economy. A tiny Russian-designed
hydrogen sensor that can quickly detect
and warn of a gas leak may be one of the
technologies to help catapult the world
into the hydrogen age.
A research and business collaboration
among Apollo, Inc., of Kennewick,
Washington, scientists from the Karpov
Institute of Physical Chemistry in
Moscow, Russia, and Pacific Northwest
National Laboratory has resulted in
the design and commercialization of a
miniature hydrogen gas sensor that is more
reliable, works faster, and costs less than
other sensors currently in use.
PNNL initiated this relationship
through the DOE National Nuclear
Security Administration Global Initiatives
for Proliferation Prevention (GIPP)
program. The GIPP program creates
opportunities for scientists who worked in
the weapons technology field during the
Cold War era to redirect their research
toward peaceful and profitable endeavors.
Professors Leonid Trakhtenberg, Genrikh
Gerasimov and Vladimir Gromov were
using nanoscale materials for sensing
reactive gases at the Karpov Institute.
GIPP provided the technology transfer
mechanism to convert their nanoscale
approach into a commercially available
product and introduce it to the marketplace.
The collaboration among the Karpov
Institute, PNNL and Apollo began about
five years ago according to Brian Opitz,
the Laboratory’s GIPP nanometals sensor
project manager. PNNL, already working
with the Russian team, began searching for
a U.S. business partner to commercialize
the technology. "Our original visionary
for this project at PNNL, Dom Cataldo,
approached Apollo with the idea of
working with the Russian scientists to
design and build a better hydrogen gas sensor," Opitz said. "Two years later, a
CRADA was signed to develop, test and
produce sensors that would detect and
measure various gases."
A CRADA, Cooperative Research and
Development Agreement, is a contractual
agreement that provides the unique
opportunity to use new technologies
evolving from federal research programs
in a collaborative way. The collaborating
parties share costs and pool the results of
their research and development program.
In this case, Battelle, which operates
PNNL for DOE, exclusively licensed
patent applications based on certain
inventions derived under the CRADA to
Apollo, and Apollo applied for the global
patent on the hydrogen gas sensor. Apollo
Sensor Technology (AST), a division that
Apollo, Inc., created to commercialize the
sensor, will pay Battelle royalties derived
from sales of the technology. Under the
provisions of the GIPP program, Battelle
will then share such royalties with the
Dan Briscoe, AST vice president for
business development, said industry is looking for the next level of leak detection
technology. The new sensors can detect
tiny amounts of hydrogen in the partsper-
million range, which is essential for
the technology to be effective because
concentrations of only 4 percent of the gas
can result in an explosion.
AST anticipates marketing the sensors
to industries that manufacture, store and
use hydrogen in their production processes,
such as power plants and petroleum
refineries where hydrogen gas is involved
in processing heavy crude to light crude.
Hydrogen also powers some emergency
backup systems used at microwave towers,
radio stations and hospitals.
A similar nanotechnology approach
used for the hydrogen sensor is capable
of detecting and measuring other gases
as well, including ammonia, methane,
carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide.
Research is already under way to design
similar sensors to detect gases in indoor
environments, leading to computerized
continuous monitoring systems for better
air quality in office buildings, schools,
hospitals, and cruise ships.