National Physical Laboratory

Measuring the next generation of life-saving pollution sensors

Car exhaust
Cars are major sources of air pollution in urban areas
(Image courtesy of iStockphoto)

The National Physical Laboratory (NPL) is helping Duvas Technologies Ltd (Duvas) develop improved air quality monitoring instrumentation. Currently over one billion people a year suffer from respiratory disease associated with pollution and, according to the World Health Organisation, over three million a year die from its effects.

Duvas is short for Differential Ultra Violet Absorption Spectroscopy. It uses UV light to detect a range of pollutants simultaneously - replacing the need for multiple instruments. Duvas quickly provides mapping of wide areas, as well as local snapshots of the chemical composition of the atmosphere, that show how pollution varies over time and space. These data can be correlated with weather patterns and traffic flows, or overlaid on map programs like Google Maps to provide visual representations of pollution, leading to better decision making and minimising human health impacts.

In order to effectively market their technology, Duvas needed to demonstrate instrument validity, measurement traceability and performance. To help the company address this, NPL performed a range of experiments on the Duvas prototype instrument to determine its ability to meet a performance specification.

Paul Brewer, a Senior Research Scientist at NPL, said:

"NPL uses highly accurate measurement science to help businesses in the UK to achieve a competitive advantage from new materials, techniques and technologies. Our work enabled Duvas to successfully demonstrate the validity of the technology it uses and provide traceability making a significant impact on product development at Duvas. We hope that this will lead to better-informed legislation for improved quality of life."

About the customer

Duvas was spun out of Imperial College London in 2008 by Verdetech Investments Limited (the venture capital arm of MDT (UK) Limited). Duvas' mission is to provide state of the art, flexible, real time, cost effective and intelligent air quality sensing and monitoring systems for measuring and modelling of ambient air quality that will enable improved decision making to limit the adverse effects of air pollution and health.

The challenge

Duvas needed to demonstrate the validity of their measurement devices. In order to do this, they required accurate and traceable gas standards of ambient pollutants. However, accurate gas standards at the required concentrations are not readily available due to their limited stability in high pressure cylinders, so there was no way to validate the technology.

The solution

NPL has developed new gas dilution facilities to prepare standards containing trace amounts of the pollutants that need to be measured to tackle the problems associated with air quality. Many of these compounds are present in the atmosphere at the level of parts-per-billion. This means that the reference standards prepared needed to contain similarly low concentrations, requiring the dilution technology found at NPL.

NPL carried out a range of experiments on the Duvas instrumentation and assessed its ability to meet a performance specification. The results showed that the measurement instruments were able to detect pollutants at the level of parts-per-billion on a second-by-second time frame - proving that they are both accurate and fast.

The impact

John Hassard, Founder and Chairman of Duvas Technologies said:

"Without NPL's unique abilities and world-class reputation, the acceptance of the Duvas approach by decision-makers would be significantly more difficult. Additionally, their scientific excellence has helped Duvas refine the technology and its use as well as validate its findings."

Once in place, local councils could use networks of Duvas sensors to inform traffic and environmental policy, and to better understand the health implications of air pollution. Such improved pollution management will save lives and improve quality of life, especially in urban areas.

For more infromation, please contact Paul Brewer

Find out more about NPL's work in Chemical Metrology and Environmental Measurement

Find out more about Duvas Technologies Ltd

Last Updated: 13 Aug 2012
Created: 21 Jun 2011

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