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Understanding the Role of Hydrogen in Power Generation

Hydrogen is making headlines these days, becoming the world’s favorite candidate to enable the transition to a sustainable, low-carbon economy. So much so that whenever we talk about hydrogen, we only mention it in the future context.

But here’s the thing: we already live in a hydrogen economy. From a chemical feedstock in oil refineries and fertilizer production to a hydrogenating agent in the food production industry, hydrogen has been wearing many hats for decades.

In power generation, hydrogen is used to cool generator windings and enhance the efficiency of electric generators. The first hydrogen-cooled turbo generator was used by Dayton Power and Light in October 1937, and since then, it has become the industry-favorite coolant.

In this article, we will explore how hydrogen is utilized in power generation and the importance of installing reliable sensing equipment in power plants.

What Makes Hydrogen a Powerful Cooling Medium?

In a power plant, a generator converts mechanical energy into electrical energy by rotating wire coils in a magnetic field. This process produces both useful energy in the form of electricity and not-so-useful energy in the form of heat. A coolant or heat transfer medium helps maintain the fuel-to-power efficiency of a generator by dissipating this excess heat. Cooling also reduces the risk of equipment damage from heat.

Hydrogen has the highest thermal conductivity of any gas, making it an industry favorite in cooling large electric generators. With 7 times higher thermal conductivity than air and 14 times lighter, hydrogen-cooled generators are far more efficient at the same capacity than air-cooled ones. These generators are also more compact and, therefore, cost-effective in comparison to air-cooled generators.

The Need for Continuous Hydrogen Sensing and Leakage Monitoring in Power Generation

When H2 is used as a coolant in a gas generator, it is important to maintain its high purity level. If the concentration is altered because of a leak, not only is there a risk of an explosive mixture forming outside but the air that will gush into the generator will bring down the production efficiency exponentially.

It is, therefore, essential to deploy sensors at various vulnerable locations across the power plant. Here’s a round-up of the most susceptible areas in power generation for the deployment of continuous intelligent hydrogen sensing.

1.Generator Floor:

Sensors should be deployed above the flanges on the hydrogen inlet side and the outlet and seal bearing for the rotor of a hydrogen-cooled generator. It’s also a good idea to place sensors at the generator outlet at susceptible leak points.

2.Hydrogen Filling Stations:

In a filling station, sensors should be placed near the ceiling to catch leaks from joints where hydrogen cylinders are connected to the pipes. Sensors should also be installed above the cylinders supplying hydrogen to the generator.

3.Hydrogen Storage Rooms:

As hydrogen tends to travel rapidly upwards and create potentially flammable clouds at the ceiling, an ideal place for sensors would be on each of the beams that support the roof.

4.Dryer Unit and Gas Exchange Skid:

Other potential leak points that require monitoring are connecting joints in the dryer unit as well as joints in the gas exchange skid.

5.Vacuum Seal Oil Tank:

Sensors can help detect internal leaks, such as hydrogen escaping into the oil tier. The sensor will then measure and catch hydrogen leaking from the oil tank and trigger an alert immediately.

6.Stator Water Dome:

In high-power generators, hydrogen is used to cool rotors, while stator windings (stationary part of the system) are cooled by circulating water. Sensors in stator water dome stator help alert users of any hydrogen leaks in the water cooling tier.


Sensors placement is crucial in an electrolysis facility to monitor leaks as well as measure the level of purity of the hydrogen produced. It is important to note that these sensors should be able to withstand the high moisture condition of an electrolyzer.

Final Thoughts

As we leapfrog into the future of power generation with hydrogen, we must not forget the safety aspect. Being the smallest, lightest, colorless, odorless, and tasteless, hydrogen is a challenging element to handle. Fortunately, there are expert solutions today that are more than prepared to take on this challenge.

At 21 Senses, we offer intelligent, reliable, and scalable sensing solutions to enhance the safety and performance of your power plant. Our sensors detect hydrogen with the highest sensitivity, selectivity, and accuracy, even in moisture-laden environments. Click here to reach out to us today.

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