Air quality awareness: what if we had better knowledge of what we are breathing ?

For many years now, gas sensors have been implemented for safety reasons in industrial, medical and consumer applications in order to detect leakages which can be extremely dangerous. It would appear to be working as very few explosions have been reported (when they do occur, they are extremely deadly, but still very rare).

But what about the millions of people who are exposed to high levels of pollution on our streets, in cars, houses and so on ? This pollution results in respiratory diseases and causes 3 million deaths each year (source: Nature, September 2015).

The gas sensor market is experiencing a unique period of growth: the combination of a new generation of gas sensors (facilitated by the miniaturisation of detection principles using MEMS technology), the increase in wearable applications and IoT (in the office, at home, in the car, etc.) and the increasing awareness that what we breathe in (and what we eat) has an impact on our life expectancy. These 3 converging factors are driving the rapid adoption of gas sensors.

These drivers have been analysed and described in the new report published by Yole Développement (Yole), Gas Sensor Technology and Market. We expect the market to reach over $900M in 2021, with a potential upside of almost $65M linked to mobile and wearable applications, depending of the availability of new technologies under development. Apart from the mobile and wearable applications, building automation, HVAC management and security applications are also driving the solid growth of the gas sensor industry.

Technology that was previously available was either accurate and adapted for security applications but bulky or costly, or low cost but limited in terms of sensitivity and accuracy.

Yole has discovered that numerous companies are now introducing (or are close to introducing) miniaturised sensors with the right specifications that are benefiting from the MEMS technology in terms of production, packaging, testing and rapidly reducing cost , if volumes are here (MEMS should be considered to be a way to turn bulky electro mechanical systems into Si devices that are only a few cm3 in size ). CCMOS, AMS, eLichens, etc. are in the process of or have already released new designs which are extremely interesting. System Plus Consulting has already opened and looked at these sensors and has carried out reserve engineering/costing analysis.

The user cases are also now becoming even clearer: the ability to access air quality information for the various places in which you spend time throughout the day (city, car, office, out jogging, at home, etc.) will enable you to make the right decisions in order to manage the air you breathe, in the same way you control heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems in order to have a warmer or colder environment. Technology with clear use cases is becoming available: mobile and wearable applications would rapidly be available !

You should also consider this new device to be an add-on: all mobile phones already have an open cavity package that can host a gas sensor. There are multiple microphones and pressure sensors which could integrate gas sensors at package level. The open-packaged sensor (as opposed to closed-package sensor hosting accelerometers, gyroscopes and electronic compasses) is capable of hosting a new die , in addition to the microphone, and temperature, pressure and humidity sensor. These kinds of environmental combo sensors are already available from Bosch Sensortec, for example .

Gas Sensors report 2016 yole i micronews

It is also interesting that multiple technologies to detect specific gases are currently under development in order to provide the right functions: optical detection, thin film sensitive layers, electrochemical sensing, resonant detection, and so on. This diversity in the detection principles is also in correlation with the diversity of measuring environment.

So, what can we expect in the next few months? A better life, we hope…


Author: Jean-Christophe Eloy, Yole Développement President and CEO