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Nanotechnology based gas multispectral sensing system for environmental control and protection

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Sensing Air Quality the Easy Way

In order to improve the air quality of our indoor environments, one important step is to establish the means to easily measure and monitor it. IAQSENSE (Nanotechnology based gas multispectral sensing system for environmental control and protection) is a three-year EU-funded project that aims to do just that, by developing new nanotechnology-based sensor systems to monitor indoor air quality (IAQ) in closed environments.

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These systems will monitor precisely the composition of the air in terms of both chemical and bio contaminants without the need for heavy, expensive equipment. To do this, they have been developed using three patented technologies, one of which is based on surface ion mobility dynamics separating each gas component. These technologies enable the systems to be highly sensitive and selective on the one hand, and fully integrated, low cost and suited to mass production on the other. Since the project began in September 2013, two technologies have been developed. The first is dedicated to monitoring indoor air quality in real-time with selective detection of each type of volatile organic compound (VOC) and its concentration. This VOC sensor technology consists of two circuits: First, the team created a Spectrometer on Chip with a sensitive surface which has an affinity to the molecules to be detected. These molecules are ionised beforehand. Beyond this sensitive surface, a field effect device creates a dynamic and interacting field which displaces the ions according to their surface mobility. The same field effect device generates an electric signal by interaction with the surface charges which depends on their location. Then, an application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) was developed which converts the signal from the spectrometer and ensures digital processing to extract the patterns representative of the molecules to be detected. This technology is going into production in mid-2016. To this end, contacts have been organised with the construction, electrical and ventilation industry for this technology. By the end of the project in August 2016, the project team will have finalised the industrialisation of the Spectrometer on Chip and organised its exploitation, technical support and dissemination tools. They have identified three markets for the VOC sensor: Buildings’ (offices and residential) monitoring and ventilation control, vehicles (driver and passenger compartments), and integrated sensors in smartphones. Claude Iroulart, the IAQSENSE Project Coordinator, explains that they are focusing on the application for buildings. ‘Our industrial contacts are suited for that,’ he says. ‘The two other segments need different approaches, integration technologies and volume considerations.’ But he believes the sensor has a genuine advantage over comparable products on the market: ‘Our VOC sensor is software programmable and has intrinsic selectivity. In this sense it has the capability to replace a range of current sensors while providing better selectivity and sensitivity.’ The second technology developed by IAQSENSE provides very low-level detection of chemical threats and explosives, and so is well suited to various security applications. This ‘cantilever-based’ technology has proven to be very sensitive and industrially reproducible. Mr Iroulart says they are looking for partners to further develop this technology, and over the next few months he expects the cantilever-based sensor to prove itself in the marketplace through a high-level partnership beyond the IAQSENSE project. Mr Iroulart sees the main development challenges as re-orienting the products from research to commercialisation. ‘We are developing sensors in the form of components which can be further integrated in sensor systems by market players. The main challenge in developing the sensor systems is to ensure the connection between research and industrialisation for mass markets. The main marketing challenge is going from a research-oriented structure to a full commercial and technical support organisation with suitable distribution channels.’


Air Quality, nanotechnology, indoor air quality

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