Sensitive sulfur detector for testing fuel cells

Graphene-based sniffer can measure sulfur at a parts-per-billion level while fuel is still intact

Sensors Environmental

Scientists at the Naval Research Laboratory have recently invented a highly sensitive, graphene-based sulfur detector that can quickly differentiate between good and bad fuel cells. The patented technology is available via patent license agreement to companies that would make, use, or sell it commercially.

Then-Secretary of the Army Mark Esper drives a fuel cell-equipped Chevy Colorado ZH2 demonstrator. Navy researchers have invented a sulfur detector to test the quality of fuel cells. (Carl Jones II/Army)

Fuel cells are becoming an attractive option for the military and commercial applications due to their low noise and heat signatures, lighter weight, and long lifetime. Possible applications include unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs), portable power in the field, silent camp and silent watch operations, as well as onboard submarines and ships.

One challenge is that sulfur must be stripped from the fuel because it will degrade the anode and cathode of the fuel cell.

Navy researchers have developed a detector out of graphene decorated with metal oxides that can detect sulfur contaminants in fuels at a parts-per-billion level. While the standard method can only measure sulfur after the fuel has been burned, the new invention provides an in-line detection technology to prevent degradation and poor performance. The detector provides a reading in only 30 seconds for gas-phase sensing and 3 minutes for liquid-phase sensing.

Potential applications for these graphene-metal oxide hybrid sensors include fuel cell power generation assets, portable fuel sensors for identifying contaminated fuel quickly, for use in sulfur-sensitive applications, in portable tools for the oil and gas industry, as fuel cell lab test equipment, and use in automotive fuel cell vehicles.

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