Hydrogen Electrolysis

At present the most commercially developed technology available to produce hydrogen is from electrolysis. Electrolysis is an optimistic course of action for carbon-free hydrogen production from renewable and nuclear resources. Water electrolysis is the decomposition of water (H2O) into its basic components, hydrogen (H2) and oxygen (O2), through passing electric current. Water is a complete source for producing hydrogen and the only by-product released during process is oxygen. This process uses electrical energy that can then be stored as a chemical energy in the form of hydrogen.

What is the Process?

To produce Hydrogen, Electrolysis converts electrical energy into chemical energy by storing electrons in stable chemical bonds. Like fuel cells, electrolysers are composed of an anode and a cathode separated by an aqueous electrolyte according to the type of electrolyte material involved and the ionic species it conducts. The electrolyte is an obligatory part as pure water does not have the ability to carry enough charge as it lacks ions. At the anode, water is oxidised into oxygen gas and hydrogen ions. While the cathode, water is reduced to hydrogen gas and hydroxide ions. At present there are three leading electrolysis technologies.

Alkaline Electrolysers (AEL)

This technology has been used on an industrial scale for over 100 years. Alkaline electrolysers operate via transport of hydroxide ions (OH-) through the electrolyte from the cathode to the anode with hydrogen being generated on the cathode side. Operating at 100°–150°C, Electrolysers use a liquid alkaline solution of sodium or potassium hydroxide (KOH) as the electrolyte. In this process the anode and cathode are separated using a diaphragm that prevents remixing. At the cathode, water is split to form H2 and releases hydroxide anions that pass through the diaphragm to recombine at the anode where oxygen is produced. As this is a well-established technology it is relatively low in cost of production as well as it provides a long-time stability. However, it does have a crossover in gases possibly compromising its degree of purity and requires the use of a corrosive liquid electrolyte.

Polymer Electrolyte Membrane Electrolysers (PEM)

Polymer Electrolyte Membrane is the latest technology to be commercially used to produce hydrogen. In a PEM electrolyser, the electrolyte is a solid specialty plastic material. PEM electrolysers operate at 70°–90°C. In this the process the water reacts at the anode to form oxygen and positively charged hydrogen ions (protons). The electrons flow through an external circuit and the hydrogen ions selectively move across the PEM to the cathode. At the cathode, the hydrogen ions combine with electrons from the external circuit to form hydrogen gas. Compared to AEL there are several advantages: the product gas purity is high in a partial load operation, the system design is compact and has a rapid system response. However, component cost is high and durability is low.

Solid Oxide Electrolysers (SOE)

AEL and PEM electrolysers are known as Low-Temperature Electrolysers (LTE). However, Solid oxide Electrolyser (SOE) is known as High-Temperature Electrolyser (HTE). This technology is still at development stage. In SOE, solid ceramic material is used as the electrolyte which conducts negatively charged oxygen ions (O2-) at elevated temperatures, generates hydrogen in a slightly different way. At a temperature about 700°–800°C steam at the cathode combines with electrons from the external circuit to form hydrogen gas and negatively charged oxygen ions. The oxygen ions pass through the solid ceramic membrane and react at the anode to form oxygen gas and generate electrons for the external circuit. Advantages of this technology is that it combines high heat and power efficiency as well as it producing low emissions at a relatively low cost. Although, due to the high heat and power required, start-up time takes longer.

Why is Hydrogen being considered as an alternative fuel?

Hydrogen is considered an alternative fuel under the Energy Policy Act of 1992. Hydrogen produced via electrolysis can contribute zero greenhouse gas emissions, depending on the source of the electricity used. This technology is being pursued to work with renewable (wind, solar, hydro, geothermal) and nuclear energy options to allow virtually zero greenhouse gas and other pollutant emissions. Although, this type of production will require the cost to be decreased significantly to be competitive with more mature carbon-based pathways such as natural gas reforming. There is potential for synergy with renewable energy power generation. Hydrogen fuel and electric power generation could be distributed and sited at wind farms, thereby allowing flexibility to shift production to best match resource availability with system operational needs and market factors.

How Long will my Gas Sensor Last?

Gas detectors are used extensively within many industries (such as water treatment, refinery, petrochemical, steel and construction to name a few) to protect personnel and equipment from dangerous gases and their effects. Users of portable and fixed devices will be familiar with the potentially significant costs of keeping their instruments operating safely over their operational life. Gas sensors are understood to provide a measurement of the concentration of some analyte of interest, such as CO (carbon monoxide), CO2 (carbon dioxide), or NOx (nitrogen oxide). There are two most used gas sensors within industrial applications: electrochemical for toxic gases and oxygen measurement, and pellistors (or catalytic beads) for flammable gases. In recent years, the introduction of both Oxygen and MPS (Molecular Property Spectrometer) sensors have allowed for improved safety.  

How do I know when my sensor has failed? 

There have been several patents and techniques applied to gas detectors over the past few decades which claim to be able to determine when an electrochemical sensor has failed. Most of these however, only infer that the sensor is operating through some form of electrode stimulation and might provide a false sense of security. The only sure method of demonstrating that a sensor is working is to apply test gas and measure the response: a bump test or full calibration. 

Electrochemical Sensor  

Electrochemical sensors are the most used in diffusion mode in which gas in the ambient environment enters through a hole in the face of the cell. Some instruments use a pump to supply air or gas samples to the sensor. A PTFE membrane is fitted over the hole to prevent water or oils from entering the cell. Sensor ranges and sensitivities can be varied in design by using different size holes. Larger holes provide higher sensitivity and resolution, whereas smaller holes reduce sensitivity and resolution but increase the range. 

Factors affecting Electrochemical Sensor Life 

There are three main factors that affect the sensor life including temperature, exposure to extremely high gas concentrations and humidity. Other factors include sensor electrodes and extreme vibration and mechanical shocks.  

Temperature extremes can affect sensor life. The manufacturer will state an operating temperature range for the instrument: typically -30˚C to +50˚C. High quality sensors will, however, be able to withstand temporary excursions beyond these limits. Short (1-2 hours) exposure to 60-65˚C for H2S or CO sensors (for example) is acceptable, but repeated incidents will result in evaporation of the electrolyte and shifts in the baseline (zero) reading and slower response. 

Exposure to extremely high gas concentrations can also compromise sensor performance. Electrochemical sensors are typically tested by exposure to as much as ten-times their design limit. Sensors constructed using high quality catalyst material should be able to withstand such exposures without changes to chemistry or long-term performance loss. Sensors with lower catalyst loading may suffer damage.  

The most considerable influence on sensor life is humidity. The ideal environmental condition for electrochemical sensors is 20˚Celsius and 60% RH (relative humidity). When the ambient humidity increases beyond 60%RH water will be absorbed into the electrolyte causing dilution. In extreme cases the liquid content can increase by 2-3 times, potentially resulting in leakage from the sensor body, and then through the pins. Below 60%RH water in the electrolyte will begin to de-hydrate. The response time may be significantly extended as the electrolyte or dehydrated. Sensor electrodes can in unusual conditions be poisoned by interfering gases that adsorb onto the catalyst or react with it creating by-products which inhibit the catalyst.  

Extreme vibration and mechanical shocks can also harm sensors by fracturing the welds that bond the platinum electrodes, connecting strips (or wires in some sensors) and pins together.  

‘Normal’ Life Expectancy of Electrochemical Sensor 

Electrochemical sensors for common gases such as carbon monoxide or hydrogen sulphide have an operational life typically stated at 2-3 years. More exotic gas sensor such as hydrogen fluoride may have a life of only 12-18 months. In ideal conditions (stable temperature and humidity in the region of 20˚C and 60%RH) with no incidence of contaminants, electrochemical sensors have been known to operate more than 4000 days (11 years). Periodic exposure to the target gas does not limit the life of these tiny fuel cells: high quality sensors have a large amount of catalyst material and robust conductors which do not become depleted by the reaction. 

Pellistor Sensor 

Pellistor sensors consist of two matched wire coils, each embedded in a ceramic bead. Current is passed through the coils, heating the beads to approximately 500˚C. Flammable gas burns on the bead and the additional heat generated produces an increase in coil resistance which is measured by the instrument to indicate gas concentration. 

Factors affecting Pellistor Sensor Life 

The two main factors that affect the sensor life include exposure to high gas concentration and poising or inhibition of the sensor. Extreme mechanical shock or vibration can also affect the sensor life. The capacity of the catalyst surface to oxidise the gas reduces when it has been poisoned or inhibited. Sensor life more than ten years is common in applications where inhibiting or poisoning compounds are not present. Higher power pellistors have greater catalytic activity and are less vulnerable to poisoning. More porous beads also have greater catalytic activity as their surface volume in increased. Skilled initial design and sophisticated manufacturing processes ensure maximum bead porosity. Exposure to high gas concentrations (>100%LEL) may also compromise sensor performance and create an offset in the zero/base-line signal. Incomplete combustion results in carbon deposits on the bead: the carbon ‘grows’ in the pores and creates mechanical damage. The carbon may however be burned off over time to re-reveal catalytic sites. Extreme mechanical shock or vibration can in rare cases also cause a break in the pellistor coils. This issue is more prevalent on portable rather than fixed-point gas detectors as they are more likely to be dropped, and the pellistors used are lower power (to maximise battery life) and thus use more delicate thinner wire coils. 

How do I know when my sensor has failed? 

A pellistor that has been poisoned remains electrically operational but may fail to respond to gas. Hence the gas detector and control system may appear to be in a healthy state, but a flammable gas leak may not be detected. 

Oxygen Sensor 

Long Life 02 Icon

Our new lead-free, long-lasting oxygen sensor does not have compressed strands of lead the electrolyte has to penetrate, allowing a thick electrolyte to be used which means no leaks, no leak induced corrosion, and improved safety. The additional robustness of this sensor allows us to confidently offer a 5-year warranty for added piece of mind. 

Long life-oxygen sensors have an extensive lifespan of 5-years, with less downtime, lower cost of ownership, and reduced environmental impact. They accurately measure oxygen over a broad range of concentrations from 0 to 30% volume and are the next generation of O2 gas detection. 

MPS Sensor  

MPS sensor provides advanced technology that removes the need to calibrate and provides a ‘True LEL (lower explosive limit)’ for reading for fifteen flammable gases but can detect all flammable gases in a multi-species environment, resulting in lower ongoing maintenance costs and reduced interaction with the unit. This reduces risk to personnel and avoids costly downtime. The MPS sensor is also immune to sensor poisoning.  

Sensor failure due to poisoning can be a frustrating and costly experience. The technology in the MPS™ sensor is not affected by contaminates in the environment. Processes that have contaminates now have access to a solution that operates reliably with fail safe design to alert operator to offer a peace of mind for personnel and assets located in hazardous environment. It is now possible to detect multiple flammable gases, even in harsh environments, using just one sensor that does not require calibration and has an expected lifespan of at least 5 years. 

What are the Dangers of Confined Space Entry?

What is Confined Space and is it Classified?

Confined Space is a global concern. In this blog we are referencing the UK’s Health and Safety Executive’s dedicated documentation, as well as the United States OSHA ones, as these are broadly familiar to other countries own health and safety procedures. 

A Confined Space is a location that is substantially enclosed although not always entirely, and where serious injury can occur from hazardous substances or conditions within the space or nearby such as a lack of oxygen. As they are so dangerous, it has to be noted that any entry to confined spaces must be the only and final option in order to carry out work. Confined Spaces Regulations 1997. Approved Code of Practice, Regulations and guidance is for employees that work in Confined Spaces, those who employ or train such people and those who represent them. 

The Risks and Hazards:VOCs

A Confined Space that contains certain hazardous conditions may be considered a permit-required confined space under the standard. Permit-required confined spaces can be immediately dangerous to operator’s lives if they are not properly identified, evaluated, tested and controlled. Permit-required confined space can a defined as a confined space where there is a risk of one (or more) of the following: 

  • Serious injury due to fire or explosion 
  • Loss of consciousness arising from increased body temperature  
  • Loss of consciousness or asphyxiation arising from gas, fume, vapour, or lack of oxygen  
  • Drowning from an increase in the level of a liquid  
  • Asphyxiation arising from a free-flowing solid or being unable to reach a respirable environment due to being trapped by such a free-flowing solid 

These arise from the following hazards: 

  • Flammable substances and oxygen enrichment (read more) 
  • Excessive heat 
  • Toxic gas, fume or vapours 
  • Oxygen deficiency 
  • Ingress or pressure of liquids 
  • Free-flowing solid materials 
  • Other hazards (such as exposure to electricity, loud noise or loss of structural integrity of the space) vocs

Confined Space Identification

HSE classify Confined Spaces as any place, including any chamber, tank, vat, silo, pit, trench, pipe, sewer, flue, well or other similar space in which, by virtue of its enclosed nature, there arises a reasonably foreseeable specified risk, as outlined above.  

Most Confined Spaces are easy to identify although, identification is sometimes required as a Confined Space is not necessarily be an enclosed on all sides – some, such as vats, silos and ships’ hold, may have open tops or sides. Nor are exclusive to a small and/or difficult to work in space – some, like grain silos and ships’ holds, can be very large. They may not be that difficult to get in or out of – some have several entrances/exits, others have quite large openings or are apparently easy to escape from. Or a place where people do not regularly work – some Confined Spaces (such as those used for spray painting in car repair centres) are used regularly by people in the course of their work 

There may be instances where a space itself may not be defined as a Confined Space, however, while work is ongoing, and until the level of oxygen recovers (or the contaminants have dispersed by ventilating the area), it is classified as a Confined Space. Example scenarios are: welding that would consume some of the available breathable oxygen, a spray booth during paint spraying; using chemicals for cleaning purposes which can add volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or acidic gases, or an area subjected to significant rust which has reduced available oxygen to dangerous levels. 

What are the Rules and Regulations for Employers?

OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) have released a factsheet that highlights all the rules and regulations of residential workers in Confined Spaces.  

Under the new standards, the obligation of the employer will depend on what type of employer they are. The controlling contractor is the main point of contact for any information about PRCS on site.  

The Host employer: The employer who owns or manages the property where the construction work is taking place. 

Employer can’t rely solely on the emergency services for rescue. A dedicated service must be ready to act in the event of an emergency.  The arrangements for emergency rescue, required under regulation 5 of the Confined Spaces Regulations, must be suitable and sufficient. If necessary, equipment to enable resuscitation procedures to be carried out should be provided. The arrangements should be in place before any person enters or works in a confined space. 

The Controlling contractor: The employer who has overall responsibility for construction at the worksite. 

 The Entry employer or Sub Contractor: Any employer who decides that an employee it directs will enter a permit-required confined space. 

Employees have the responsibility to raise concern such as helping highlight any potential workplace risks, ensuring that health and safety controls are practical and increasing the level of commitment to working in a safe and healthy way.  

Testing/ Monitoring the Atmosphere:

Prior to entry, the atmosphere within a confined space should be tested to check the oxygen concentration and for the presence of hazardous gas, fume or vapour. Testing should be carried out where knowledge of the confined space (e.g. from information about its previous contents or chemicals used in a previous activity in the space) indicates that the atmosphere might be contaminated or to any extent unsafe to breathe, or where any doubt exists as to the condition of the atmosphere. Testing should also be carried out if the atmosphere is has been previously contaminated and was ventilated as a consequence (HSE Safe Work in Confined Spaces: Confined Spaces Regulations 1997 and Approved Codes of Practice). 

The choice of monitoring and detecting equipment will depend on the circumstances and knowledge of possible contaminants and you may need to take advice from a competent person when deciding on the type that best suits the situation – Crowcon can help with this.  

Monitoring equipment should be in good working order. Testing and calibration may be included in daily operator checks (a response check) where identified as necessary in accordance with our specification.  

Where there is a potential risk of flammable or explosive atmospheres, equipment specifically designed to measure for these will be required and certified Intrinsically Safe. All such monitoring equipment should be specifically suited for use in potentially flammable or explosive atmospheres. Flammable gas monitors must be calibrated for the different gases or vapours which the risk assessment has identified could be present and these may need alternative calibrations for different confined spaces. Get in touch if you require any help 

Testing should be carried out by people who are competent in the practice and aware of the existing standards for the relevant airborne contaminates being measured and are also instructed and trained in the risks involved in carrying out such testing in a confined space. Those carrying out the testing should also be capable of interpreting the results and taking any necessary action. Records should be kept of the results and findings ensuring that readings are taken in the following order: oxygen, flammable and then toxics. 

The atmosphere in a confined space can often be tested from the outside, without the need for entry, by drawing samples through a long probe. Where flexible sample tubing is used, ensure that it does not draw water or is not impeded by kinks, blockages, or blocked or restricted nozzles, in-line filters can help with this. 

What products are Intrinsically Safe and are suitable for Confined Space Safety?

These products are Certified to meet local Intrinsically Safe Standards.  

The Gas-Pro portable multi gas detector offers detection of up to 5 gases in a compact and rugged solution. It has an easy-to-read top mount display making it easy to use and optimal for confined space gas detection. An optional internal pump, activated with the flow plate, takes the pain out of pre-entry testing, and allows Gas-Pro to be worn either in pumped or diffusion modes. 

Gas-Pro TK offers the same gas safety benefits as the regular Gas-Pro, while offering Tank Check mode which can auto-range between %LEL and %Volume for inerting applications. 

T4 portable 4-in-1 gas detector provides effective protection against 4 common gas hazards: carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulphide, flammable gases, and oxygen depletion. The T4 multi gas detector now comes with improved detection of pentane, hexane, and other long chain hydrocarbons. 

Tetra 3 portable multi gas monitor can detect and monitor the four most common gases (carbon monoxide, methane, oxygen, and hydrogen sulphide), but also an expanded range: ammonia, ozone, sulphur dioxide, H2 filtered CO (for steel plants). 

Covid-19 is making oxygen management crucial for hospitals

The current Covid-19 pandemic is pushing healthcare to the limit – but oxygen management in hospitals has become a particular challenge for health systems worldwide. Within the healthcare environment, the safety of the healthcare providers and their patients is paramount.

When patients are hospitalised with Covid-19 they often need additional oxygen, and the logistics and sheer volume of this demand is forcing hospitals to take drastic action to manage oxygen use.

A recent BBC documentary, for which a film crew traced the impact of Covid-19 on the Royal Free Hospital in London, clearly shows how the problems of oxygen management are taxing front-line medics and NHS managers, and directly affecting patient care.

At the time of filming, 80% of patients at the Royal Free had Covid-19 and most were on supplementary oxygen at between five and thirty litres per second. As Rui Reis, operations manager for estates at the trust, explains in the film, the hospital used a month’s supply of oxygen in two days and was faced with the prospect of drops in the pressure of patients’ oxygen and in delivery levels – with potentially catastrophic results.

In more normal times, the hospital’s estates management could act to mitigate the problem. But all such actions would require a 4–6-hour shutdown of the oxygen supply.

And in a pandemic, that simply is not an option.

Striking a Balance

The Royal Free had never experienced such oxygen issues before, and soon realised that a balance had to be struck between reducing oxygen use and simultaneously maintaining patient care and the oxygen infrastructure. As a result, they took various measures, for example doctors decided to reduce target blood oxygen levels from 92–94% to 90–94%, while giving clinicians the option to increase oxygen levels in line with patient need. And operations director Rachel Anticoni ensured that every oxygen outlet was closed off where possible to avoid leaks, rather like stopping a dripping tap.

In the film, Rachel Anticoni reports their solutions had reduced oxygen use by around 3,000 litres per minute.

Gas monitoring makes the difference

The Royal Free offers a fine example of how good gas management can improve outcomes and operations. This is something that Crowcon knows about, because we already supply hospitals with our oxygen detectors – these provide early warning of  oxygen-riched environments (which can be an explosion risk) and can also be used to detect the leaks that drain oxygen capacity.

To summarise:

  • The Covid-19 pandemic means that hospitals must now use unprecedented amounts of oxygen.
  • This has caused them to struggle with capacity and mitigate against unnecessary use to ensure supplies are sustainable.
  • Crowcon oxygen detectors can help, by warning hospitals of oxygen leaks and preventing the occurrence of oxygen-rich environments.
  • In this way, gas monitoring protects health system resources and patients alike.

Find out more about Oxygen risks in healthcare environments in our infographic here.

If you want to know how we can help with monitoring oxygen use to ensure supply or prevent oxygen rich environments pose an explosion risk, our experts can help, please get in touch.

Have you ever thought about the dangers behind your favourite beverage?

Beer Production

It’s only natural for us to associate the need for gas detection in the oil and gas, and steel industries, but have you thought about the need to detect hazardous gases such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen in the brewing and beverage industry?

Maybe it’s because nitrogen (N2) and carbon dioxide (CO2) are naturally present in the atmosphere. It could be that CO2 is still under-valued as a hazardous gas. Although in the atmosphere CO2 remains at very low concentrations – around 400 parts per million (ppm), greater care is needed in brewery and cellar environments where in confined spaces, the risk of gas canisters or associated equipment leaking could lead to elevated levels. As little as 0.5% volume (5000ppm) of CO2 is a toxic health hazard. Nitrogen on the other hand, can displace oxygen.

CO2 is colourless, odourless and has a density which is heavier than air, meaning pockets of CO2 gather low on the ground gradually increasing in size. CO2 is generated in huge amounts during fermentation and can pose a risk in confined spaces such as vats, cellars or cylinder storage areas, this can be fatal to workers in the surrounding environment, therefore Health & Safety managers must ensure the correct equipment and detectors are in place.

Brewers often use nitrogen in multiple phases of the brewing and dispensing process to put bubbles into beer, particularly stouts, pale ales and porters, it also ensures the beer doesn’t oxidise or pollute the next batch with harsh flavours. Nitrogen helps push the liquid from one tank to another, as well as offer the potential to be injected into kegs or barrels, pressurising them ready for storage and shipment. This gas is not toxic, but does displace oxygen in the atmosphere, which can be a danger if there is a gas leak which is why accurate gas detection is critical.

Gas detection can be provided in the form of both fixed and portable. Installation of a fixed gas detector can benefit a larger space such as plant rooms to provide continuous area and staff protection 24 hours a day. However, for worker safety in and around cylinder storage area and in spaces designated as a confined space, a portable detector can be more suited. This is especially true for pubs and beverage dispensing outlets for the safety of workers and those who are unfamiliar in the environment such as delivery drivers, sales teams or equipment technicians. The portable unit can easily be clipped to belts or clothing and will detect pockets of CO2 using alarms and visual signals, indicating that the user should immediately vacate the area.

At Crowcon, we’re dedicated in growing a safer, cleaner, healthier future for everyone, every day by providing best in class gas safety solutions. It’s vital that once gas detectors are deployed, employees should not get complacent, and should be making the necessary checks an essential part of each working day as early detection can be the difference between life and death.

Quick facts and tips about gas detection in breweries:

  • Nitrogen and CO2 are both colourless and odourless. CO2 being 5 times heavier than air, making it a silent and deadly gas.
  • Anyone entering a tank or other confined space must be equipped with a suitable gas detector.
  • Early detection can be the difference between life and death.

Oxygen factoids – what you need to know

As part of our commitment to sharing our knowledge and expertise of gas detection safety around the world, we have created a series of short and to-the-point “factoid” videos, covering a variety of gas-related hazards. As with all our videos, they are intended to be watched, downloaded and/or shared however helps you. Please use them to spread the word and improve gas detection safety.

This first video focuses on risks associated with either too little or too much oxygen (O2).

Continue reading “Oxygen factoids – what you need to know”

Revised Confined Space Regulations published by Health & Safety Executive

The UK Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has recently revised its Confined Space Regulations ‘Approved Code of Practice’ document, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to review the guidance in relation to gas detection.

The Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) provides practical advice on how you can comply with the requirements of the Confined Spaces Regulations 1997.

Continue reading “Revised Confined Space Regulations published by Health & Safety Executive”

Monitoring and Analysis of Landfill Gases

As recycling becomes more common, use of landfill is reducing, but it is still an important means of waste disposal. For example, 2012-13 figures from Defra (department of the environment, food and rural affairs) for England show that 8.51 million tonnes, or 33.9%, of waste collected by local authorities went to landfill.

Continue reading “Monitoring and Analysis of Landfill Gases”