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Brightlands Materials Center: gas sensor technology

08 Apr 2016

There will be an ever-increasing variety in the composition, and thus the quality, of Dutch natural gas. Network operators want to be able to monitor the quality of the gas in future. The Brightlands Materials Center is developing a patented sensor technology that network operators can use to measure gas composition inexpensively and in real time. The technology also provides opportunities for other applications, such as ambient air measurements.

The Brightlands Materials Center in Geleen is a research centre for new polymer materials. Scientists and industry specialists are focusing on three lines in shared research programmes. First, they are working on composite materials for lightweight parts in the automotive industry. Second, they are developing new materials for 3D printing, such as prosthetics in health care. Third, they are improving the properties of polymers for optical and electronic applications, such as gas sensor technology.

Gas sensor technology

“We are still using natural gas from Slochteren,” says TNO's Jan Willem Slijkoord. “Since it has a very consistent composition, the network operator knows its precise calorific content. Based on the decreased gas volume, the operator can determine the calorific value and invoice its clients. However, it is firmly expected that the gas composition in our network will vary far more than is currently the case, due to the import of Russian gas and the transport of biogas, among other factors. As such, the supplier can no longer measure how much energy it has supplied to the customer from the volume. It is therefore important to consistently measure the composition of the natural gas in the network. At the Brightlands Materials Center, we are developing a gas sensor which is capable of doing that.”

Precise, quick, and cheap

Natural gas is an assorted mix of gases. Natural gas from Groningenveld is made up of 81.3% methane and 3.5% higher hydrocarbons. Approximately 15.2% also consists of non-flammable gases. The innovative sensor determines the real-time concentration of methane, ethane, propane, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and water vapour in natural gas. Slijkoord explains, “We have proven and patented the principle in conjunction with the manufacturer Bronkhorst High-Tech and network operator Alliander. Other analysis techniques exist, such as calorimetric or spectroscopic analysis, but these are more time-consuming and expensive. The gas sensor that we are developing has the potential to be cheap and to work simply and accurately in real time. It can also take excellent measurements in a reducing atmosphere. The current margin of error for measurements is ± 5%. Our aim is to reduce this to ± 0.5%, which is extremely accurate for this application. We also want to reduce the size of the complete sensor system further from 8 dm3 to 8 cm3.”

Broad application options

The secret of the gas sensor lies in the applied polymer technology. “We apply that specific technology to an electronic circuit. We then secure it in a measurement and control device that determines the composition and energy content of the gas to be supplied. Depending on the type of polymers that you apply to the electronics, you can detect the relevant gas component and percentage by weight in real time. The technology thus has a far broader application than simply in the natural gas pipeline network, which is what makes it so interesting. There is an increasing need to investigate ambient air, for example, both indoors and outdoors: to combat the sick building syndrome, check whether classroom air in a school is optimal for learning achievements, whether the carbon monoxide levels in a home are not excessive, for smog detection in cities, etc.”

Is there also interest in monitoring gasses and air quality?

Slijkoord says, “I am keen to make contact with businesses and authorities that are interested in monitoring air quality, both inside and outside buildings. Gas sensor technology is a very suitable and affordable solution for this purpose. If you have interesting applications or wish to know more, I invite you to contact us.”

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Ir. Jan Willem Slijkoord

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Ir. Jan Willem Slijkoord

  • Sustainability
  • Polymers
  • Recycling
  • Brightlands Material Center
  • Shared Research Innovation
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