Bulent Mutus, Marcus Drover, Simon Rondeau-GagnéChemistry professors Bulent Mutus, Marcus Drover, and Simon Rondeau-Gagné are collaborating on a research project to develop sensors making storage and distribution of hydrogen safer.

Research team to develop sensors to aid transition to green energy sources

Three UWindsor researchers are joining forces to help Canada transition from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources. They are developing sensing equipment that will enhance how dihydrogen gas is stored and transported.

Chemistry professors Marcus Drover, Simon Rondeau-Gagné, and Bulent Mutus received a $366,400 NSERC Alliance Missions grant for their two-year proposal, “Strengthening Green Energy Sources in Canada: Optical Sensors for Safe Storage and Distribution of Hydrogen.”

Each researcher will bring a unique expertise to the table. In a three-tiered approach, Dr. Drover will begin the process by making new small molecules that will interact with dihydrogen. Dr. Rondeau-Gagné will take those molecules, incorporate them into polymers and make extended thin film networks of these new materials for use in hydrogen sensing. Finally, Dr. Mutus and his lab will use these film networks to build a new sensing device employing florescence spectroscopy.

“There is a lot of interest to develop new strategies for hydrogen storage and distribution. Hydrogen gas is small and can easily escape through small cracks in piping infrastructure, so it is pivotal that we have a means to detect if there are any leaks,” says Drover.

“This project in particular takes advantage of the expertise of three complimentary research programs at UWindsor who will work synergistically to develop these novel sensing materials.”

Dihydrogen, produced using renewable energy and electrolysis, is a greener option than carbon-based fuels because when it burns it produces innocuous byproducts such as water, instead of such greenhouse gases as carbon dioxide.

The team will deliver a high-resolution detection and quantification method to manage the risks associated with storing and distributing dihydrogen. As the final piece of the puzzle, the researchers will partner with Wilson Analytical Services, a global leader in optical sensor design and manufacturing, to create sensing equipment for the Canadian marketplace.

“Wilson has the capacity to mass-produce the proposed new technology in addition to deploying it in various environments where dihydrogen is used, stored, and or transported,” Drover says.

“The devices will be used in rugged and extreme environments, so we are thinking you could take a sensor and put it on the side of a pipeline or on the side of a hydrogen canister and it would tell you if the hydrogen was leaking and if so, by how much.”

Rondeau-Gagné says the key word for this project is “transition,” particularly in regard to the transition from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources.

“But also, Wilson has been in the business for a long time working on devices and sensors for the oil and gas industry, so through this grant there is an incentive to transition to a new kind of business,” he says. “Not only will we expand strategies for the safe handling dihydrogen, but hopefully we will help to transition a company into the green energy sector.”

Drover says it is exciting that the outcomes of a laboratory project will be translated back to a Canadian-led company for future commercialization.

“The aim of the Alliance Missions grants is to provide opportunities for economic rejuvenation, especially for folks who have been negatively impacted by Covid-19, while at the same time contributing to the clean energy sector, a sector that is experiencing a lot of interest in Ontario and across the country.”

The grant will fund two post-doctoral researchers, a graduate student, and four undergraduate researchers over a period of two years.

“This project will lead to new materials and devices that will accelerate economic recovery, expanding low-carbon fuel production opportunities and providing opportunities for communities and businesses nationwide, cementing Canada’s position as a world-leader in safe dihydrogen technology,” says Drover. “It’s great to see this kind of research being done in Windsor. With recent government investment, we really are becoming a leader in clean energy.”

—Sara Elliott