Air quality monitoring: not just an urban concern?

Air quality concerns are on the rise around the world, with urban pollution being the main cause. However, radon buildup and off-odors are often bigger problems in rural areas, creating opportunities for gas sensors that offer continuous monitoring and even odor categorization. IDTechEx’s latest report, “Gas Sensors 2022-2032: Technology, Opportunities, Players, and Forecasts”, analyzes which gas sensing technologies are best suited for this application and many others, and the crucial role the software in analyzing sensor data to create a compelling use case.

Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. As the natural uranium in the ground decays, radon is produced and released into the atmosphere. Radon hotspots are therefore associated with geographical factors such as soil porosity and moisture and are therefore independent of urban emissions.

Modern rural homes are generally well insulated but poorly ventilated, creating conditions for dangerously high radon concentrations. Cellars and basements with large ground contact surfaces are particularly high-risk locations for radon exposure.

Existing methods for checking radon levels require keeping a piece of radiosensitive plastic in the house for three months, before sending it to a lab for analysis and waiting a few more weeks for the results. This aims to obtain a representative average level – which is not reliable if the occupancy of the house changes, if construction works take place or if the detectors are not placed correctly. Overall, the existing technology for measuring radon in homes is slow, inaccurate and expensive.

Continuous measurement solves these problems, making it possible to quantify changes in radon levels due to construction work, weather conditions, season, room occupancy, etc. This both improves baseline accuracy and highlights concentration peaks to enable targeted mitigation actions.

Startup companies AirThings and EcoSense, both interviewed by IDTechEx, have commercialized miniaturized ionization detectors to measure radon. Their innovations in signal processing and power consumption optimization enable earlier, more frequent and more accurate measurements that uncover the impacts of changing seasons, times of day and ventilation in real time. .
This emerging sensor technology means that radon detection can now join the Internet of Things (IoT), with closed loop ventilation, data sharing and visualization systems. The latest report from IDTechEx predicts that the radon monitoring market will grow alongside growing awareness of the health implications of poor air quality and digital monitoring capabilities.

Determining malodor levels resulting from agricultural or industrial activity has always been the responsibility of human panels who rarely visit sites and record their opinions. In addition to being ineffective, the results are largely subjective. This creates a substantial opportunity for ongoing quantitative monitoring that can ensure regulatory compliance and can be numerically linked to odor reduction methods.

The new electronic nose technology evaluated in the latest IDTechEx report is expected to disrupt this industry. “E-nose” has become a general term for combining gas sensor networks with software. Each element of the array exhibits a different electronic response for each analyte, with machine learning unpacking the combined response to determine gas composition and identify specific odors.

Electronic noses for the smart home and food and beverage market, capable of identifying the fingerprint of odors once trained, have recently come to market. Bosch’s electronic nose sensors are marketed by several device manufacturers, especially for quantifying the smell of a specific coffee/wine or for detecting spoiled food in the refrigerator. Their low-cost metal oxide sensors as well as higher-value AI software packages are now widely available, with even smaller and more sensitive printed nanomaterials from several competitors also showing great promise.

Small, low-powered sensors can be mounted on drones, agricultural vehicles, or distributed around farms/factories to obtain granular, continuous odor information. Reliance on software will likely lead to new business models adopting “odor management” as a service to comply with government regulations.

Odor digitization, i.e. the quantification of odors/aromas that were previously assessed subjectively, is set to develop rapidly and create vast opportunities for gas sensors capable of detecting multiple analytes. Applicable sensing technologies include semiconductor, optical, electrochemical, and carbon nanomaterial-based devices.

Improving air quality in rural areas requires a clear picture of problems, such as radon and bad smells, and therefore access to lots of real-time data. Networks of gas sensors in cities are growing, providing more information about the interaction between urban emissions and pollution in real time. They show their value in information and policy regulation, while enabling closed-loop systems for “smart cities” such as speed limit management. However, localized and granular campaign data poses a new challenge and market opportunity. This could incorporate both fixed and portable solutions, public transport integration and even wearable devices.

New IDTechEx report, “Gas Sensors 2022-2032: Technology, Opportunities, Players, and Forecasts”, analyzes required, established and emerging technologies – as well as air quality issues and other trends driving growth of the gas sensor industry. The report includes granular 10-year (2022-2032) revenue forecasts for markets segmented by 10 types of technologies and applications, including industrial, environmental, automotive, medical, and olfactory. It includes over 20 company profiles from interviews with leading manufacturers and start-ups specializing in a range of different technologies.
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