What is Electrochemical gas sensor?

 

4-Electrode Nitric Oxide Sensor

 

Electrochemical gas sensors are gas detectors that measure the concentration of a target gas by oxidizing or reducing the target gas at an electrode and measuring the resulting current.
Gas detector
A gas detector is a device that detects the presence of gases in an area, often as part of a safety system. This type of equipment is used to detect a gas leak or other emissions and can interface with a control system so a process can be automatically shut down. A gas detector can sound an alarm to operators in the area where the leak is occurring, giving them the opportunity to leave. This type of device is important because there are many gases that can be harmful to organic life, such as humans or animals.

 

Gas detectors can be used to detect combustible, flammable and toxic gases, and oxygen depletion. This type of device is used widely in industry and can be found in locations, such as on oil rigs, to monitor manufacture processes and emerging technologies such as photovoltaic. They may be used in firefighting.

 

Gas leak detection is the process of identifying potentially hazardous gas leaks by sensors. These sensors usually employ an audible alarm to alert people when a dangerous gas has been detected. Exposure to toxic gases can also occur in operations such as painting, fumigation, fuel filling, construction, excavation of contaminated soils, landfill operations, entering confined spaces, etc. Common sensors include combustible gas sensors, photoionization detectors, infrared point sensors, ultrasonic sensors, electrochemical gas sensors, and semiconductor sensors. More recently, infrared imaging sensors have come into use. All of these sensors are used for a wide range of applications and can be found in industrial plants, refineries, pharmaceutical manufacturing, fumigation facilities, paper pulp mills, aircraft ans ship-building facilities, hazmat operations, waste-water treatment facilities, vehicles, indoor air quality testing and homes.

 

Electrochemical gas sensor

 

SO2-B4 Sulfur Dioxide Sensor 4-Electrode

 

Electrochemical gas detectors work by allowing gases to diffuse through a porous membrane to an electrode where it is either chemically oxidized or reduced. The amount of current produced is determined by how much of the gas is oxidized at the electrode,[3] indicating the concentration of the gas. Manufactures can customize electrochemical gas detectors by changing the porous barrier to allow for the detection of a certain gas concentration range. Also, since the diffusion barrier is a physical/mechanical barrier, the detector tended to be more stable and reliable over the sensor's duration and thus required less maintenance than other early detector technologies.

 

However, the sensors are subject to corrosive elements or chemical contamination and may last only 1–2 years before a replacement is required.[4] Electrochemical gas detectors are used in a wide variety of environments such as refineries, gas turbines, chemical plants, underground gas storage facilities, and more.

 

Construction
The sensors contain two or three electrodes, occasionally four, in contact with an electrolyte. The electrodes are typically fabricated by fixing a high surface area precious metal on to the porous hydrophobic membrane. The working electrode contacts both the electrolyte and the ambient air to be monitored usually via a porous membrane. The electrolyte most commonly used is a mineral acid, but organic electrolytes are also used for some sensors. The electrodes and housing are usually in a plastic housing which contains a gas entry hole for the gas and electrical contacts.

 

Diffusion controlled response

 

The magnitude of the current is controlled by how much of the target gas is oxidized at the working electrode. Sensors are usually designed so that the gas supply is limited by diffusion and thus the output from the sensor is linearly proportional to the gas concentration. This linear output is one of the advantages of electrochemical sensors over other sensor technologies, (e.g. infrared), whose output must be linearized before they can be used. A linear output allows for more precise measurement of low concentrations and much simpler calibration (only baseline and one point are needed).

 

Diffusion control offers another advantage. Changing the diffusion barrier allows the sensor manufacturer to tailor the sensor to a particular target gas concentration range. In addition, since the diffusion barrier is primarily mechanical, the calibration of electrochemical sensors tends to be more stable over time and so electrochemical sensor based instruments require much less maintenance than some other detection technologies. In principle, the sensitivity can be calculated based on the diffusion properties of the gas path into the sensor, though experimental errors in the measurement of the diffusion properties make the calculation less accurate than calibrating with test gas.[2]
Cross sensitivity

 

For some gases such as ethylene oxide, cross sensitivity can be a problem because ethylene oxide requires a very active working electrode catalyst and high operating potential for its oxidation. Therefore gases which are more easily oxidized such as alcohols and carbon monoxide will also give a response. Cross sensitivity problems can be eliminated though through the use of a chemical filter, for example filters that allows the target gas to pass through unimpeded, but which reacts with and removes common interferences.

 

While electrochemical sensors offer many advantages, they are not suitable for every gas. Since the detection mechanism involves the oxidation or reduction of the gas, electrochemical sensors are usually only suitable for gases which are electrochemically active, though it is possible to detect electrochemically inert gases indirectly if the gas interacts with another species in the sensor that then produces a response. Sensors for carbon dioxide are an example of this approach and they have been commercially available for several years.