North West based engineering firm DefProc has secured a six-figure deal with Northern Gas Networks (NGN) to create a Smart Gas Pressure Sensor, the operation of which will include maximising the stability of introducing hydrogen on the network.
The company specialise in the research and development of innovative products for multiple sectors including green energy innovation, maritime, environmental monitoring, MedTech, and utilities.
One of eight big project wins for the firm over the last six months worth a total of £236,000, the contract will fund the creation of the sensor, which will monitor the supply pressure and low-pressure shut-off status, significantly reducing the disruption in homes if gas supply is lost.
In aiding the smooth introduction of hydrogen to the gas network, the sensor will also reduce the need for engineer callouts, and as such minimise disruption in properties where it is fitted. Householders will also get real-time updates about problems with their gas supply and the cause.
Patrick Fenner, Director and Head of Engineering at Defproc, explained: “For NGN, they are working on a project on how best to introduce hydrogen as a renewable fuel into the gas network.
“They want to be able to make sure as part of the work that they do, that they have all the right things in place.
“One of the things that they’re looking to mitigate against with the changeover to hydrogen is they don’t want to have issues with low pressure on the network and it taking a long time to recover.
Although the device that we’ve built is not just for hydrogen, it would go right through fully natural gas, through a blend, and into hydrogen as well.
The sensor’s ability to work with the current established gas network, as well as being prepared to handle the changeover to hydrogen, is crucial as the UK prepares to decrease its reliance on fossil fuels in the coming decades.
In order to make the transition to hydrogen as smooth as possible, Patrick emphasised the importance of monitoring: “It is a big change and the GDN want to be sure that it is going to be as smooth as possible for every customer s that the changeover happens as seamlessly as possible.
“It means they get to know, especially in the early stage, if there’s anything unexpected happening, anything they hadn’t planned for and be able to respond to that without having to wait for issues to arise.”
DefProc have previously developed a domestic hydrogen sensor
Through their collaboration with EIC, NGN, and Wales & West Utilities, DefProc have also designed and developed H2Go, a domestic hydrogen sensor which may one day replace devices such as smoke detectors.
With hydrogen being increasingly seen as a contender to replace fossil fuels when it comes to heating and fuelling homes, the partnership sought to create a product which would increase confidence in domestic hydrogen by designing something similar to the devices the general public are already used to having in their homes.
Patrick highlighted that while there are plenty of hydrogen sensors on the industrial market, this was the first of its kind in the UK to be designed for domestic use, with the hopes that it would kickstart the market.
He said: “One of the big problems they’ve got is that [industrial hydrogen sensors are] all noticeably expensive, and they’re never going to come down to a price that means it can be sold in a DIY shop, and you can pick it off the shelf for £30-50, depending on your model.
“What they asked us to do was to go and find, first a sensor element that could bring that price down, and then to be able to develop a proof of concept prototype that they could showcase.”
DefProc’s innovation in hydrogen products to date illustrate the collective effort to transition to a hydrogen-based society, and highlight the importance of preparing the sector and the general public for the switch to a low-carbon economy.