EU-funded multi-gas sensor to tackle global warming

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As part of an EU-funded project, a team of scientists is developing a sensor capable of detecting multiple gasses several times faster and 10 ten times cheaper than existing systems. The first of its kind, the multi-band gas sensor could be deployed on oil rigs or in industrial areas to monitor numerous Greenhouse gas emissions simultaneously and help curb climate change.

Combining the principles seen in fibre optic communications, the Horizon 2020 project MIREGAS (‘Mid-IR source for Gas Sensing’) aims to develop a light source that exploits multiplexing-to-demultiplexing filters, modulating and wavelength tuning in combination with mid-IR spectroscopic sensing technologies; a process never seen before.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that concentrations of methane (CH4) in the atmosphere are roughly two and a half times those of pre-industrial times. Methane is more than 20 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide and can remain in the atmosphere for more than a decade.

While Mid IR spectroscopic equipment exists, current sensors are based on the use of filters, spectrometers or tuneable lasers; so, several lasers are needed for corresponding gases. And, while current technology can take up to 10 seconds to produce a positive ID, the new device will be able to detect dozens of harmful emissions – such as methane, ethane, butane, propane, CO2, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulphide and benzene – in milliseconds.

‘Because the MIREGAS device is adjustable, it is possible to use only one light source instead of several lasers. This means that we can make multiple readings and monitor several harmful gases simultaneously through one sensor,’ explained Professor Pentti Karioja from the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.

‘The possibility to tailor a spectral response to match any wanted set of absorption lines with any desired bandwidth is a major advantage of our filtering approach when compared to the single narrow line of a tuneable laser,’ Karioja added.

Initially, the MIREGAS device is expected to be deployed in several industrial fields such as building ventilation, process control and safety, gas leakage monitoring, personal, pipeline and explosion safety. However, the capabilities for observing dangerous greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere will provide practical tools for tackling climate change.

‘The widespread application of methane emission detection, as well as all of the hydrocarbons from C1 to C5, is a key area for the MIREGAS technology,’ said Pawel Kluczynski of Airoptic, a partner in the MIREGAS consortium. ‘Not only are our measuring costs 10 times cheaper than methods used today but our spectral resolution is 10 times better compared to conventional MOEMS filters used currently in gas sensors. It offers 24/7 protection; there is no need for recalibration and you don’t need a PhD to operate it.’

With a foreseen manufacturing cost of below €300 per unit, the proposed approach is competitive against conventional gas sensors which can cost in excess of €75,000.

Coordinated in Finland by VTT, the MIREGAS project has received a grant of €3,588,262 from H2020 via the Photonics Public Private Partnership. 

MIREGAS is comprised of a consortium of members across Europe, including the Tampere University of Technology (Finland), Vaisala (Finland), the Institute of Electronic Materials Technology (Poland), Airoptic (Poland), Vigo System (Poland) and GasSecure (Norway).

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