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What is a Hydrogen Generator?

What is a Hydrogen Generator?

A Hydrogen generator is a machine that is used to produce hydrogen from water, using a process called electrolysis. If the supply pressure of hydrogen from the generator is high enough, it can eliminate the need for hydrogen cylinders by providing a safer and more user friendly alternative alternative.

How does a hydrogen generator work?

A hydrogen generator works by using electricity to split the hydrogen atoms in a water molecule apart form the oxygen atom. This is done by a process called electrolysis, and is performed in a cell inside the hydrogen generator.

The cell contains an anodic catalyst and a cathodic catalyst separated by a proton exchange membrane. Hydrogen ions are attracted to the cathodic catalyst, while the oxygen ions are attracted to the anodic catalyst.

The pressure of hydrogen gas is then allowed to build to the desired pressure and delivered to the end user.

Do I need a hydrogen generator or hydrogen cylinder?

A hydrogen generator would suit anyone who wants to start using hydrogen and does not want to put high pressure hydrogen cylinders in their laboratory, or spend time and money in plumbing in new high pressure gas pipework to the laboratory from an external cylinder store.

A hydrogen generator would also suit someone who is concerned about storing large quantities of flammable gas in their laboratory, or else piped into their laboratory.

Hydrogen generators have frequently been used to run gas chromatograph (GC) instrumentation as well as to supply hydrogen for chemical reactions.

What to look for in a hydrogen generator?

Hydrogen generators come in many different shapes and sizes and are often intended for different purposes.

Some hydrogen generators have been developed specifically for running analytical instrumentation such as GCs and therefore produce high purity, relatively low-pressure hydrogen at a very even and precise flow rate.

Other hydrogen generators may have been produced with other uses in mind, such as to supply hydrogen as a reactive gas for synthetic chemistry, in which case, a higher pressure supply of gas is often preferred, and users are not often overly worried about losing a decimal point of purity to achieve that.

Some more sophisticated hydrogen generators such as the ThalesNano Energy H-Genie have built in mass flow controllers, meaning that the flow from the generator can be accurately measured, controlled and logged.

Logging the changes in hydrogen production during a reaction in which the generator is asked to maintain a constant gas pressure means that kinetics data can be gathered, and the user can be certain that the reaction has gone to completion.

How is a hydrogen generator safer than a cylinder?

A hydrogen generator does not store vast quantities of hydrogen inside itself at any time, either during operation, or when not in use. This means that if a leak occurs, only a very small quantity of hydrogen is likely to escape.

Conversely, a full hydrogen cylinder may contain as many as 11,000 litres of hydrogen gas; all of which could be released if a leak were to occur. Good hydrogen generators also contain sensors to detect hydrogen and water leaks, and shut down hydrogen production when a leak is detected.

Can I run multiple devices from one hydrogen generator?

Provided the supply pressure and flow rate are the same for each of the devices, and the total hydrogen consumption is below the maximum flow rate of the generator, yes.

A single high-pressure hydrogen generator may be able to handle the entire hydrogen demand for a laboratory. 

What to do next?

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