A carbon monoxide sensor based on a simple electrochemical reaction is being patented by Kansas University.
Richard Warburton, postdoctoral chemistry research associate who helped develop the sensor, said it could be used to measure carbon monoxide concentrations in car exhausts or industrial emissions.
"There's a big movement to monitor car exhausts to reduce pollution," Warburton said. "This sensor could measure from 500 parts per million up to 100 percent, or a million parts per million. It could be used on many kinds of exhaust systems."
The chemistry is called "unbelievably simple" by Warburton's adviser, Daryle H. Busch, Roy A. Roberts distinguished professor of chemistry. It creates an electric current in the presence of carbon monoxide.
Warburton said that although the sensor's sensitivity would be relatively low, its ability to distinguish carbon monoxide from other substances would be unique.
The chemical reaction developed by KU researchers is specific to carbon monoxide with almost no cross sensitivity to water, atmospheric gases or most common chemicals.
Other sensors exist, but most are not as specific to carbon monoxide as the one developed this year, he said.
"One of the hardest things to do in making a sensor is to make it specific," he said.
Warburton, who worked on a similar sensor for carbon dioxide while at the University of Southampton in England, said KU applied for the carbon monoxide patent in May.
He said the patent only was for the chemistry of the sensor, not for a sensing device, which he said has not yet been developed.
Warburton said the developed sensor could be as small as a square inch and could be installed in a device about the same size as an electrical current meter.
"The sensor would operate at a particular voltage and the amount of current would determine the amount of carbon monoxide," he said.
Others who helped develop the sensor were Busch and Wei Wu, KU liberal arts and sciences graduate.
Warburton said KU researchers worked about a year on the sensor before completing the project. Researchers may have to wait a few years to find out whether the patent is approved, he said.