Gas sensing is one of the most critical and rapidly growing areas in modern sensor technology with applications in many fields, including the environment (eg car exhaust monitoring), safety in domestic and industrial environments, and process control. The main shortcomings of today's sensors are that, in general, they lack selectivity, often suffer from drift and poisoning effects, have insufficient lifetimes, and can be fairly large and expensive. The M3-GAS project will address these problems with particular attention to the sensing of hydrocarbons, carbon oxides, ammonia and toxic rocket propellants. The project brings together considerable expertise in various fields of technology in order to investigate and develop miniaturised versions of selective gas sensor systems.
Micromachining processes have been developed for metal oxide and catalytic sensors. The feasibility of III-V photodetectors adapted to infrared (IR) spectroscopy and the principles for micromachined electrochemical sensors have been proven. Equipment and methods for sensor evaluation have been developed, and signal processing tools evaluated.
M3-GAS consists of five major tasks. The first two aim at the development of gas sensors with greatly improved selectivity, based on semiconducting layers and catalysts. In the third task, electrochemical sensors will be developed, where the emphasis is on the investigation of IC-compatible and long-term stable electrolytes, based on hydrogels and polymers. The fourth task uses the inherent selectivity of non-dispersive infra-red absorption for the development of chemical sensing systems.
The main effort will be the development of III-V narrow-band photodiodes; as an alternative route, a broadband detector (bolometer) will be developed and integrated with an IR source on a single chip. Micromachining technology will be used in all these four tasks in order to obtain substantial reductions in size, cost, and power consumption. The prototypes developed will be extensively characterised to determine their cross-sensitivity to other gases and their dependence on humidity and temperature. In the fifth task, on signal processing, signal evaluation methods such as pattern recognition and neural network logic will be used to analyse the information provided by the sensor arrays and ultimately obtain a high selectivity.
The three industrial partners will exploit the results in their particular application fields. MBB is developing facilities to mass-produce microsensors through its subsidiary MEG.
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