Tiny gas sensor to detect explosive vapors and chemical agents

Published 29 October 2008

EU-funded project aims to develop a tiny sensor — sensor will be less than two centimeters in length and at least twice as sensitive as other sensors of its size

Small is beautiful. We wrote yesterday about researchers in Indiana working on developing the world’s smallest detection system: The size of a shoe box, the complete mass spectrometer will identify tiny amounts of chemicals in the environment. The European have a response: New European consortium, led by VTT Technical Research Center of Finland, is developing a miniature gas sensor to detect greenhouse gases. The sensor will also be able to detect explosives vapors and chemical agents such as nerve gases, when integrated in homeland security sensor systems. Moreover, it could have broader consumer benefits such as improved air conditioning in buildings.

The European Union has given €2.8 million to the project, called MINIGAS, to develop a tiny, super-sensitive, and cost effective gas sensor. The MINIGAS sensor will be less than two centimeters in length and at least twice as sensitive as other sensors of its size. The MINIGAS consortium brings together world-leading institutes and multinational companies from across Europe. VTT leads the program, with the core photo-acoustic gas sensing technology also coming from Finland via Gasera, a spin-out company from the University of Turku. The Loffe Institute in Russia provides Light Emitting Diode (LED) technology, and U.K.’s QinetiQ brings its miniaturization expertise in addition to leading on exploitation. Two other multinational companies complete the team — Doble to market the sensor for greenhouse gas applications and Selex to sell MINIGAS to homeland security markets.

The MINIGAS project is funded through the European Union’s Seventh Research Framework Program (FP7). Markus Korn, the European Commission’s project officer responsible for the project said: “This project will create new hi-tech jobs in Europe in this rapidly growing market.” Ismo Kauppinen, Gasera CEO, said: “High-sensitivity gas sensors could play a key role in monitoring the presence of pollutants in the environment, but need to be smaller, cheaper and more effective.”