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EETE APR 2014

How toxic is Paris? European project tackles the issue By Julien happich Greyish photos of Paris under a thick blanket of contaminated air, the Eiffel tower barely visible in the skyline, gave us a spectacular demonstration of bad environmental practices contrasting very much with the French capital’s ideal touristic representations that normally circulate on the web. Around mid-March, the foggy atmosphere was reported to contain over 180 micrograms of PM10 particles per cubic metre (particulate matter smaller than 10 micrometers in diameter such as soot emitted by vehicles, heating systems and heavy industry). Of course, these particles are only the visible part of the chemical soup that city dwellers have to endure and the list of exhaust gases, solvents and other hazardous volatile organic compounds (VOCs) known to have adverse effects on our health or recognized as plain carcinogens spans hundreds of molecules. Now, indoor air quality (IAQ) is reportedly worse than that of external air due to the concentration of organic VOCs directly often emanating from the buildings’ construction materials and office furniture, all confined into tight spaces. This is aggravated by inadequate ventilation and the fact that most people spend 90% of their time indoor, leading to the so called Sick Building Syndrome (the occupants experiencing discomfort, irritations or generic illness). The European Lung Foundation estimates that respiratory illnesses cost Europe 102 billion€ per year (17.7 billion related to Asthma), and according to the World Health Organisation’s European figures, the Sick Building Syndrome alone (affecting work efficiency and absenteeism) could cost from 0.8 to 1.7 billion euros per year. Currently, monitoring outdoor and indoor quality relies either on expensive industrial instruments (for a comprehensive analysis of gases) or on simple and low-cost humidity and CO2 sensors with limited scope. Alternatively, on-site sampling and in-depth laboratory analysis has to be performed regularly, costing several hundreds of euros each time. Clearly there is room for improvement, and a large market to be served with lowcost multi-analyte sensors. Under the 3-year IAQSense European project, 10 partners from five countries will tackle this issue, aiming to integrate multiple sensing technologies at silicon level into one wirelessly connected module. Launched in September last year, the 5 M€ IAQSense research project (of which 3.5M€ is funded by the European Community´s 7th Framework) hopes to come up with a multi-analyte sensor about two orders or magnitude cheaper than current lab or industrial-grade solutions. The device would combine three proven technologies to simultaneously monitor volatile organic compounds, trace chemical health hazards such as pesticides, fertilizers or NOx, and identify biological respiratory hazards. Such an integrated sensor would deliver real time information concerning the environment, offering a permanent and fine monitoring of all gas and volatile pollutants, either at fixed places (at home or in the office) or in a mobile environment (as a smartphone add-on). The granularity of the information could be used to better understand indoor air quality dynamics, optimising building designs and models, enabling the precise mapping of contaminants across all sorts of spaces (including outside), and ultimately managing health risks. According to project coordinator, Claude Iroulart from Efficience Marketing, it is conceivable that such sensors could be integrated into construction materials to continuously monitor indoor air quality and couple the data to ventilation and cleansing strategies. Iroulart splits the total available market for such sensors in Europe into different vertical application domains, the biggest by far being construction (both residential and commercial), followed by automotive (monitoring passengers’ compartments and cabins in cars and aircrafts), security including checkpoints and cargo screening, and health (mostly breath analyzers). The figures run into tens of millions of smart gas sensing units for a potential European market worth 400M€/year. Even fulfilling a small percentage of the serviceable available market (renovation and new installations) is an attractive proposition, possibly worth 120M€/year for one member of the consortium producing and selling such sensing microsystems. Of course, establishing more precise European air quality monitoring standards could push these figures further. Then IP licences are another option to go beyond a single company’s volume limitations. Three technologies will be investigated for integration into these smart sensors, a spectrometer on chip, a functionalized tip field-effect transistor (FET), and a molecule traces detector using piezo-cantilevers. Fig. 1: A wafer showing several spectrometer-on-chip dies. Fig. 2: Circuit diagram and close-up photograph of the functionalized tip FET with its protruding flexible tip. 16 Electronic Engineering Times Europe April 2014 www.electronics-eetimes.com


EETE APR 2014
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