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The Commercialization of an Innovative Hydrogen Leak Detection Tape

Excellence in Technology Transfer 2017


Hydrogen gas leaks pose many significant safety and costly maintenance problems. Finding the exact location of hydrogen gas leaks in an industrial setting is so difficult that it can cost millions of dollars in resources and labor. Chemochromic pigments can be very robust hydrogen leak indicators due to their high visibility, long-term stability, and reliable chemical reactions between the pigments and hydrogen. However, their implementation is often difficult because of environmental interference and the gas permeability of host materials.

To address this problem, NASA Kennedy Space Center (NASA KSC) scientists collaborated with University of Central Florida (UCF) researchers at the Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC) to invent hydrogen leak sensors, utilizing a combination of chemochromic pigments and polymers. The sensor quickly changes color from beige to black when exposed to hydrogen gas. The sensor is extremely versatile and can be incorporated into a wide variety of commercial products through molding into rigid or flexible shapes, such as tape or fiber spinning into protective safety garments. This sensor was proven to be very effective for pinpointing the exact location of leaks in hydrogen gas lines and fittings at launch pads, industrial facilities, and academic research uses. The inventors won the prestigious R&D 100 Award in November 2014 and the 2015 TechConnect Innovation award.

The NASA KSC Technology Transfer Office executed both a patent license agreement (with a sublicense clause) and a Space Act Agreement with UCF to accomplish the technology transfer. UCF combined its patents with NASA KSC’s and marketed them as one intellectual property portfolio. NASA KSC assisted with marketing and lead generation, as well as technical support. One of the UCF researchers and co-inventor of the technology founded a startup company called HySense Technology, LLC, with assistance from UCF's business support services.  HySense licensed the technologies from UCF, fully developed and marketed its product (known as Intellipigment™), and had five commercial customers. The company won a $100,000 first-place award at an innovation competition at the Innovation Concourse of the Southeast: Safety & Manufacturing event in Orlando, Florida.

In 2016 HySense was acquired by Nitto, Inc., a subsidiary of Nitto Denko Corporation. Nitto is marketing the technology as HySense™ hydrogen detection tape. Nitto has grown to be a leader in the energy materials, industrial tapes, environmental solutions, optronics, and life sciences markets. Commercial production and sales of the technology by Nitto will make this leak sensor widely available for use by NASA, the Department of Defense, and industries that utilize hydrogen gas. Due to the success of all involved in this technology transfer effort, in 2016 the tape was named the prestigious NASA Commercial Invention of the Year.

Winners:

  • Janine Captain
  • Dr. Luke Roberson
  • Bobby DeVor
  • Gary Bockerman
  • Bob Youngquist
  • Karen Thompson
  • Dr. Nahid Mohajeri
  • Nazim Muradov
  • Dr. Ali Raissi
  • Martha Williams
  • Trent Smith
  • John Miner
  • James Nichols

Contact: James Nichols, (321) 867-6384, james.d.nichols@nasa.gov



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