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Fuel Cell Safety

Fuel cells could provide clean power for everything from cell phones to cars. But the hydrogen that fuel cells convert into electricity is explosive. One way to improve safety: faster hydrogen sensors, which detect leaks in less than a second. A new nanoscale device created by chemists at the University of Montpellier in France and the University of California, Irvine, could fit the bill.

Like existing detectors, the nanoscale sensor uses palladium, a metal to which hydrogen molecules stick. But its tiny wires (photo) react thousands of times faster to the presence of hydrogen than standard detectors, says Irvine chemist Reginald Penner. The sensors also consume thousands of times less power than today’s hydrogen detectors. Several companies have expressed interest in licensing the technology.

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