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America's Next Top Energy Innovator Challenge

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Element One, Inc.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Element One’s detection products will change the paradigm in the way hydrogen and other hazardous gas leaks are detected, achieving a new level of safety in existing industrial and emerging consumer environments.  Element One has patented the only available coatings for the detection of hydrogen that change color reversibly or non-reversibly as desired to give both current and historical information about leaked hydrogen.  In 2011, Element One optioned to license three National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) patents that complement its own technologies.

Completed and proposed testing of our indicators for different applications include: large plastics manufacturing plant has completed tests, and discussions for licensing our product for use in safety shields for hydrogen fittings and valves is underway; testing programs in several oil refineries, the largest consumers of hydrogen, are being planned; an Israeli company used our products to test for degradation in zinc-air batteries for the U.S. Army; and, a proposed Canadian project to investigate the safety of hydrogen equipment in mines will incorporate our indicators into their tests. 

Interest in the technology has also come from unexpected sources.  Our technology is licensed for incorporation into a diagnostic test kit for a common sexually transmitted disease identified as a precursor to HIV.  If the protozoan parasites that cause the STD are present, the indicator changes color when it reacts with the hydrogen produced as a metabolic byproduct during their growth in a culture medium.

Recent research has found that ingested hydrogen has unique and therapeutic benefits, and a medical research team is intending to dissolve hydrogen in a beverage.  Our indicator is being tested for possible incorporation into the packaging to provide assurance to the consumer that hydrogen is still present.

Element One is working in collaboration with NREL to accelerate development of new devices to alleviate concerns about hydrogen safety in consumer environments with the introduction of hydrogen cars.  The transition to hydrogen as a fuel would quadruple the size of the market for our products.

Element One was formed by veterans of NREL in Boulder, Colorado in 2005.

Technology
Our patented visual hydrogen gas indicators use either thin films or nano-particles of a transition metal oxide with a very thin, discontinuous coating of a catalyst to catalyze its reaction with hydrogen. Element One’s indicating thin films and coatings can be applied to a variety of materials for a variety of applications, making for a whole suite of potential products.  Thin films may be applied to stretch films or shrink wrap to cover or encapsulate tanks, equipment, fittings and valves.  Nano-particles can be used as pigments in indicating paints and printing inks, and may be applied with a brush, spray can, paint or marking pen, or applied to decals or tape.  Either thin films or paints can be used in a network of our RFID sensors, providing a low cost, effective system to continuously monitor for leaks.  When used to supplement electronic sensors, these new products can dramatically provide new levels of safety and economy in industrial operations that use hydrogen.

Impact on the Country and /or the Economy
Hydrogen is widely used in industry, and there are strong financial incentives to monitor hydrogen leaks.  Hydrogen is expensive; leaked hydrogen is equivalent to lost profits. In the worst-case scenario, industrial gas leaks can cause loss of human life and large-scale financial loss.  Companies must meet greenhouse-gas emission regulations and workplace safety and OSHA standards.  The costs in labor and system downtime caused by leak testing can be significant.  One oil industry representative indicated that RFID sensors could save his company more than $50 million per year.

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