The evolution of pressure measurement in the hydrogen industry

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With hydrogen set to play an increasing role in the global energy mix, pressure measurement specialist ESI Technology outlines the advantages of silicon-on-sapphire technology for pressure measurement in the growing number of applications and systems emerging in this sector.

The hydrogen industry is on the brink of revolutionising the global energy landscape. As a clean and efficient energy source, hydrogen promises to reduce carbon footprints and mitigate climate change. One critical aspect of harnessing hydrogen’s potential is the correct and reliable measurement of pressure within various systems, from production and storage to transportation and utilisation. Silicon-on-sapphire (SoS) pressure transducers and transmitters are playing a pivotal role in advancing pressure measurement technology in the hydrogen industry, ensuring safety, efficiency, and precision.

Silicon-on-sapphire technology

Silicon-on-sapphire technology involves the integration of a thin layer of silicon on a sapphire substrate. This combination uses the unique properties of both materials: silicon’s well-established semiconductor characteristics and sapphire’s exceptional mechanical strength and thermal stability. The result is a robust and highly sensitive pressure measurement device capable of performing in extreme environments.

The advantages Silicon-on-Sapphire pressure transmitters can offer include:

  • High precision and sensitivity: SoS pressure transmitters show superior precision and sensitivity due to the excellent piezoresistive properties of silicon. This sensitivity is crucial in the hydrogen industry, where even minor variations in pressure can significantly affect safety and efficiency.
  • Temperature stability: Hydrogen systems often run under extreme temperature conditions. SoS technology ensures minimal thermal drift, supplying accurate pressure readings across a wide temperature range. The sapphire substrate’s low thermal expansion coefficient helps keep measurement integrity, which is crucial for high-temperature hydrogen applications.
  • Durability and corrosion resistance: Hydrogen environments can be harsh, with potential exposure to corrosive substances. Sapphire’s chemical inertness and mechanical robustness make SoS pressure transmitters highly resistant to corrosion and physical wear, ensuring long-term reliability and reduced maintenance costs.
  • High-pressure capability: Hydrogen systems can involve extremely high pressures, especially in storage and transportation. SoS pressure transmitters are designed to withstand these high-pressure conditions, making them ideal for hydrogen applications that demand robust performance under stress.

SoS pressure transducers can meet a number of challenges and deliver clear benefits in hydrogen industry applications, including:

  • Hydrogen production: In hydrogen production, particularly through methods such as water electrolysis, maintaining precise pressure control is essential for efficiency and safety. SoS pressure transmitters provide accurate monitoring and control, ensuring optimal performance and preventing hazardous conditions.
  • Storage and transportation: Hydrogen storage, whether in liquid or gaseous form, requires meticulous pressure management. SoS pressure transmitters are employed to monitor storage tanks and transportation vessels, ensuring they operate within safe pressure limits and alerting operators to any deviations that could indicate leaks or other issues.
  • Fuel cells: Hydrogen fuel cells convert chemical energy into electrical energy, requiring precise pressure regulation for optimal performance. SoS pressure transmitters help maintain the necessary pressure conditions within the fuel cells, enhancing efficiency and longevity.
  • Hydrogen refuelling stations: Refuelling hydrogen-powered vehicles needs accurate pressure control to ensure safe and efficient transfer of hydrogen. SoS pressure transmitters are integral to the refuelling infrastructure, providing real-time data to manage the refuelling process effectively.

Enhancing safety 

Safety is paramount in the hydrogen industry due to the high flammability and potential hazards associated with hydrogen gas. Reliable pressure measurement is, therefore, crucial for detecting leaks, over-pressurisation, and other anomalies that could pose risks. SoS pressure transmitters offer several safety-enhancing features:

  • Leak detection: Accurate pressure monitoring enables the early detection of leaks, allowing for prompt intervention before the situation escalates. This capability is vital in preventing accidents and ensuring the safety of personnel and equipment.
  • System integrity monitoring: Continuous pressure measurement helps maintain the integrity of hydrogen systems by providing real-time data on pressure conditions. This data is essential for identifying and addressing potential issues that could compromise system safety.
  • Compliance with regulations: The hydrogen industry is subject to stringent safety regulations. SoS pressure transmitters provide the reliable and precise data needed to comply with these regulations, ensuring that hydrogen systems operate within the prescribed safety parameters.

Efficiency and sustainability

The use of SoS pressure transmitters also contributes to the overall efficiency and sustainability of hydrogen systems. By providing accurate and reliable pressure data, these devices enable:

  • Optimal system performance: Precise pressure control ensures that hydrogen systems operate at their best performance levels, maximising energy efficiency and reducing waste.
  • Reduced downtime: Reliable pressure measurement minimises the likelihood of unexpected failures and downtime. This reliability is crucial for keeping continuous operation in critical hydrogen applications.
  • Lower maintenance costs: The durability and corrosion resistance of SoS pressure transmitters reduce the frequency and cost of maintenance, contributing to the long-term sustainability of hydrogen infrastructure.

Real-world applications

Numerous real-world applications prove the benefits of SoS pressure transmitters in the hydrogen industry. For instance:

  • Hydrogen refuelling stations in Europe: Several hydrogen refuelling stations across Europe have adopted SoS pressure transmitters to enhance the accuracy and reliability of their pressure measurement systems. This adoption has resulted in safer and more efficient refuelling operations, promoting the broader use of hydrogen-powered vehicles.
  • Hydrogen production facilities in Asia: Leading hydrogen production facilities in Asia are utilising SoS pressure transmitters to monitor and control their electrolysis processes. The precise pressure data provided by these transmitters has improved the efficiency of hydrogen production, contributing to the region’s energy sustainability goals.
  • Aerospace applications in the United States: The aerospace industry in the United States is incorporating SoS pressure transmitters in hydrogen propulsion systems for spacecraft. The reliability and high-pressure capabilities of these transmitters are crucial for ensuring the safety and performance of hydrogen-based propulsion systems in demanding aerospace environments.

Prospects and innovations

As the hydrogen industry continues to evolve, the role of silicon-on-sapphire pressure transmitters is likely to expand. Future innovations may include:

  • Enhanced miniaturisation: Advances in microfabrication techniques could lead to even smaller and more sensitive SoS pressure transmitters, enabling their use in compact and lightweight hydrogen systems.
  • Integration with IoT: The integration of SoS pressure transmitters with the Internet of Things (IoT) could supply real-time data analytics and remote monitoring capabilities, further enhancing the safety and efficiency of hydrogen systems.
  • Advanced sensing capabilities: Ongoing research and development may yield SoS pressure transmitters with enhanced sensing capabilities, such as multi-parameter measurement (e.g., temperature, humidity), supplying comprehensive monitoring solutions for hydrogen applications.

Conclusion

Silicon-on-sapphire pressure transmitters are at the forefront of evolving pressure measurement technology in the hydrogen industry. Their high precision, temperature stability, durability, and high-pressure capability make them indispensable for a wide range of hydrogen applications, from production and storage to fuel cells and refuelling stations. By enhancing safety, efficiency, and sustainability, SoS pressure transmitters are driving the advancement of the hydrogen industry, paving the way for a cleaner and more sustainable energy future.

The continued innovation and adoption of SoS pressure transmitters will undoubtedly play a crucial role in realising the full potential of hydrogen as a key energy source, contributing to the global efforts to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change.

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