Kist: Terahertz Tech Detects Microscopic Hydrogen LeakS

H2 LEAKImage Source: KIST


Researchers at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) and Korea University have pioneered a breakthrough in gas detection. Using a terahertz-wave optical platform, their non-contact sensor can detect hydrogen leaks as small as 0.25% in real-world conditions. This technology addresses safety concerns in hydrogen-related industries by offering a stable and non-explosive detection method. The research team utilized palladium and metamaterials to enhance sensitivity, providing a real-time solution for gas detection, making it a potential game-changer in various applications, including industrial safety and healthcare diagnostics.


In the pursuit of safety and efficiency in the hydrogen industry, researchers at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) and Korea University have unveiled a groundbreaking technology—a non-contact terahertz light sensor capable of detecting hydrogen gas leaks as small as 0.25% in real-world environments. This achievement, setting a world-top limit-of-detection performance via optical detection methods, opens new possibilities for enhancing safety protocols in hydrogen-related processes.

Hydrogen, being the smallest and lightest molecule, poses unique challenges in terms of detection due to its colorless and odorless nature. Ensuring safety during various stages of hydrogen handling, from production to storage and transportation, demands ultra-sensitive gas detection technology. Conventional sensors, relying on electric signals, are prone to sparking, creating a potential risk of explosions in the presence of leaked hydrogen gas.

Addressing these safety concerns, the research team led by Dr. Minah Seo and Prof. Yong-Sang Ryu has developed a non-contact terahertz light sensor. This sensor can detect trace amounts of hydrogen gas in real-world conditions at room temperature and pressure, providing a level of sensitivity crucial for the safe handling of hydrogen throughout its life cycle.

The technology leverages spectroscopy, a non-contact observation method that measures changes in the optical constants of an analytic sample. Terahertz electromagnetic waves, with their wide frequency band, are particularly sensitive to the natural vibrations of gas molecules. This sensitivity allows for the observation of minute details and differences in molecules, including various gases, DNA, and amino acids.

The research team focused on the unique property of hydrogen permeating into palladium metal and devised a strategy to exploit this interaction between light and matter. They developed a gas-detection sensing platform using metamaterials capable of amplifying signals in specific bands of electromagnetic waves, particularly in the gas-sensitive terahertz band.

The terahertz metamaterial, combined with palladium, created a sensing platform with an ultra-narrow 14 nm space, maximizing the sensitivity of the terahertz signal. This design not only allowed for significant optical signal variation in the presence of exposed hydrogen gas but also ensured the reusability of the detection platform through special processing technology, overcoming the typical irreversibility of metal hydrides.

Dr. Minah Seo highlighted the technology's potential, stating, "It is expected to be used to develop a system that can immediately respond to various harmful factors, gases, and diseases through mobile, on-site, and real-time inspections."

In addition to its superior detection performance, the technology opens avenues for visually inspecting various gas adsorption and desorption processes and molecular-level chemical reaction mechanisms occurring on metal surfaces. This dual functionality positions the terahertz light sensor as a versatile tool for advancing safety and understanding complex chemical processes.


The collaborative efforts of KIST and Korea University have resulted in a groundbreaking non-contact terahertz light sensor, setting a new standard for detecting hydrogen gas leaks. With the ability to identify leaks as small as 0.25% in real-world conditions, this technology addresses critical safety concerns in the hydrogen industry. By utilizing palladium and metamaterials, the research team achieved enhanced sensitivity and reusability, overcoming the limitations of traditional sensors. The potential applications of this technology extend beyond industrial safety, with the capability to contribute to mobile, on-site, and real-time inspections for various harmful factors, gases, and diseases. This innovation stands as a testament to the commitment to advancing safety protocols in hydrogen-related processes and holds promise for broader applications in healthcare and beyond.

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