Revolutionising environmental monitoring technologies: key barriers and possible solutions
Florea, Larisa and Diamond, Dermot (2015) Revolutionising environmental monitoring technologies: key barriers and possible solutions. In: Euronanoforum 2015, 10-12 June 2015, Riga, Latvia.
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Cloud-based computing infrastructure with enormous storage capability, coupled with new tools for remotely accessing, analysing and visualising data, is developing at an exponential rate in terms of the variety and scale of available information. The ‘sensor web’ is an area of particular interest, with many major industries increasingly looking at ways to apply sensor network technologies to develop new products and services. However, the practical realisation of sensor networks requires a scalable model, in which the basic building block, the sensor (or sensing platform) is very low cost to buy, requires little or no maintenance, and has a very long lifetime (Years). Understandably, attention has therefore focused on sensors that meet these requirements, like thermistors, photodiodes, and vibration sensors. However, despite the obvious tremendous value of integrating chemical sensing capabilities for distributed real-time environmental sensing, there are no existing examples of large-scale deployments. Unfortunately it is a sector that is characterised by conservative practices, and failure to adapt innovative approaches, and the status quo (very expensive platforms ca. €15K+ each) continues to dominate. In an attempt to stimulate R&D activity to bridge the gap between the performance requirements of chem/biosensing platforms for distributed environmental sensing, and what is currently available, competitions have been launched such as the Wendy Schmidt prize for pH sensing in the ocean environment ($2 million) and the nutrient sensor challenge recently launched by the Alliance for Coastal Technologies.
There are a number of reasons why this is so. These include legal frameworks that specify the analytical approach to be employed, lack of buyer interest (who pays?), and the fundamental limitations of the current state of the art of available science and technology. For example, biofouling and other issues cause changes in sensor response characteristics, which in turn requires regular calibration. Conventional approaches to liquid handling in these platforms drives up the price and complexity, and requires larger form factors for reagent and waste storage. The integration of new concepts for liquid control based on innovative materials science such as fully integrated photo-actuated soft polymer valves offers a way forward, if issues related to reliability and response characteristics can be solved. These circulation systems are more biomimetic in nature than traditional microfluidic platforms based on silicon micromachining and will require convincing validation if market adoption is to happen.
A key necessity is to pool expertise across groups and teams working on innovative solutions that can significantly drive down the cost of implementing chemical sensing and biosensing. This is the aim of the ‘European Sensor System Cluster’ (ESSC), one stream of which is focused on how these new approaches may impact on distributed environmental sensing. For example, this may take the form of forums designed to bring together teams working on EU-funded projects related broadly to new environmental sensing technologies, and to remove barriers to commercialization. These events could also involve aligned national and international initiatives to explore how project outcomes can be more effectively shared, and to build project clustering and alignment activities into future cooperative funding measures. The current composition of the ad-hoc ESSC is given below.
ESSC Chairman: Dr. Michele Penza (ENEA Brindisi, Italy)
Application WG Leader Institution
Environmental sensors D. Diamond Dublin City University, Ireland
Indoor quality sensors A. Schütze University of Saarland, Germany
Health monitoring sensors P. Galvin Tyndall Institute, Ireland
Monitoring of industrial processes T. Mayr Technical University of Graz, Austria
Integration & commercialization O. Martimort Nanosense, France
Dissemination and Outreach T. Simmons AMA Sensorik, Germany
Coordination: Rudolf Frycek – AMIRES, Switzerland, Hans-Hartmann Pedersen, European Commission, DG Research & Innovation
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