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Air Quality Monitoring: Not Just an Urban Concern?


June 9, 2022 ( Newswire) Air quality concerns are on the rise globally, with urban pollution the dominant cause. However, radon accumulation and unpleasant aromas are often bigger problems in rural locations, 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 and many other applications, along with the crucial role that software plays in analyzing sensor data to create a compelling use case.

Source: IDTechEx

Radon and miniaturized ionization chambers

Radon is reported to be the second biggest cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. As natural uranium in soil decays radon is produced and released into the atmosphere. Radon hot spots are thus associated with geographical factors like soil porosity and moisture and are thus independent of urban emissions.

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

Existing methods to check radon levels require keeping a radioactivity-sensitive piece of plastic in the home for three months, before sending it to a laboratory for analysis and waiting another few weeks for the results. This aims to obtain a representative average level - which is unreliable if house occupancy changes, building works occur or detectors aren't placed correctly. Overall, existing technology to measure radon in homes is slow, low in accuracy, and expensive.

Continuous measurement resolves these challenges, enabling changes in radon level due to building works, weather, season, room occupancy, etc. to be quantified. This both improves baseline accuracy and highlights concentration spikes to enable targeted mitigating actions.

Early-stage companies, AirThings and EcoSense, both interviewed by IDTechEx, have commercialized miniaturized ionization detectors to measure radon. Their innovations in signal processing and optimization of power consumption allow earlier, more frequent, and more accurate measurements that unveil 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 visualization, data-sharing, and closed-loop ventilation systems. IDTechEx's latest report predicts the radon monitoring market will grow in tandem with awareness of the health implications of poor air quality, and digital monitoring capabilities.

Agricultural odors and e-noses

Determining malodor levels that result from agricultural or industrial activity has historically been the responsibility of human panels who infrequently visit sites and record their opinions. As well as being inefficient, the results are largely subjective. This creates a substantial opportunity for continuous quantitative monitoring that can ensure regulatory compliance and can be digitally linked to odor reduction methods.

New e-nose technology appraised in the latest IDTechEx report is set to disrupt this industry. 'E-nose' has become a broad term for the combination of gas sensor arrays with software. Each array element exhibits a different electronic response to each analyte, with machine learning unpacking the combined response to determine gas composition and identify specific odors.

E-noses for the smart-home and food and drinks market, capable of identifying the fingerprint of smells once trained, have recently been commercialized. Bosch's e-nose sensors are being marketed to multiple device makers, including looking to quantify the smell of specific coffee/wine or detect spoilt food in the fridge. Their low-cost metal oxide sensors alongside higher value AI software packages are now widely available, with even smaller and more sensitive printed nanomaterials from multiple competitors also showing significant promise.

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

Digitizing smell, that is quantifying odors/aromas which used to be assessed subjectively, is set to grow rapidly and create extensive opportunities for gas sensors capable of detecting multiple analytes. Applicable sensing technologies include semiconductor, optical, electrochemical, and carbon nanomaterials-based devices.

Outlook and market forecasts

Improving rural air quality requires a clear picture of the issues, such as radon and malodors, and hence access to extensive real-time data. Gas sensor networks within cities are growing, providing more information about the interplay between urban emissions and pollution in real-time. They are showing their value in informing and regulating policy, whilst also enabling closed-loop systems for 'smart cities' such as speed limit management. However, localized and granular data from the countryside poses a new challenge and a new market opportunity. This could incorporate both fixed and portable solutions, public transport integration, and even wearables.

The new IDTechEx report, "Gas Sensors 2022-2032: Technology, Opportunities, Players, and Forecasts", analyzes the technologies required, both established and emerging - alongside air quality concerns and other trends driving the growth of the gas sensor industry. The report includes granular, 10-year (2022 - 2032) forecasts of the sales revenue of segmented markets by 10 technology types and applications including industrial, environmental, automotive, medical, and olfaction. It includes over 20 company profiles from interviews with both major manufacturers and early-stage companies specializing in a range of different technologies.

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