GE shows a chemical sensor that does not need batteries

Published 17 October 2008

Researchers develop a chemical sensor that can detect minute quantities of chemicals in the air or water; it has no batters: it receives its power wirelessly from a sensor reader

Researchers at GE Global Research, the technology development arm of General Electric, have developed a new type of chemical sensor. They claim that the sensor is an industry first because it can not only detect the presence of many different chemicals under variable conditions — it also operates without a battery. The RFID sensor was built in a similar way to a conventional RFID tag, but it is coated with a chemically or biologically sensitive film which allows it to detect and measure individual chemicals in different mixtures and variable conditions. It could, for example, be used to detect trace concentrations of toxic gases such as toxic industrial chemicals (TICs), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), or chemicals in liquids.

How does the sensor operate without batteries? The power for the sensor is obtained wirelessly from a sensor reader. A reader activates both the RFID chip and a sensor antenna and then collects data from the device.

Radislav Potyrailo, a principal scientist at GE Global Research who led the multidisciplinary wireless sensing development team that developed the sensor system, said, “Without the need for batteries, we can make sensors that are much smaller in size and at substantially reduced costs. Because of that, they also can be made for one-time use.”

A multidisciplinary team, comprised of analytical chemists, RF engineers, polymer scientists, and microfabrication engineers, contributed to the development of the sensor and the associated reader.