Detecting excellence

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Mark Naples explores the future of gas detection

As with all things in life, evolution is constant, and the gas detection industry is no different. Looking back to the origins of the industry 64 years ago, the first ground-breaking devices were developed to highlight just how much things have changed. Not only has product innovation changed, but there has also been a massive evolution in the marketplace itself.

Back at the beginning of the gas detection story, mining was the key application for this type of equipment, but the advent of enhanced site safety and new legislation means a wide variety of applications and industries now use gas detection equipment.

The monitoring of emissions from stationary sources of pollution, such as power stations, manufacturing plants and other industrial facilities, is essential for a whole host of reasons. Not only does it allow the site operator to ascertain the concentration of various gases they are emitting into the atmosphere, but it also enables the relevant authorities to check whether the site is complying with its legal obligations.

Plant owners who must abide by certain regulatory frameworks therefore invest in measuring equipment so that they can report what and how much is coming out of the stack. In the market for measuring emissions, there are many measuring technologies and Umicore Coatings Services’ IR gas detection filters sit at the heart of many of them.

There are two broad categories of gas detectors: point detectors and area detectors. Point gas detectors have a single detector location requiring the gas cloud to interact with the sensor. Point detector types include catalytic, electrochemical, solid state and infrared (IR).

IR gas detectors compare the amount of light at a certain wavelength where hydrocarbon molecules absorb light (known as the sample) with light at a wavelength where no absorption occurs (known as the reference). When the light passes through a hydrocarbon gas, the intensity at the sample wavelength will drop, while the intensity at the reference wavelength will be unaffected. The ratio of the two signals is proportional to the gas concentration.

An IR detector consists of one or more infrared sources, one or more infrared detectors and precision optical filters to separate the sample and reference wavelengths from the background light. It also requires a light path that is open to the atmosphere so that gas can diffuse into the light beam.

Gas detection has been through several evolutions since the birth of the industry. A major milestone in its history has been the introduction of infrared (IR) gas detection, which uses a gydrocarbon gas’ ability to absorb IR light at a predetermined wavelength. Thanks to a fast speed of response, fail-to-safety operation, and ability to work in inert atmospheres, IR detection has fast become the go-to method of detection.

Due to the dependence of the absorbance on the wavenumber, different gas components can be distinguished using the absorption spectrum.

Gas detection systems have been deployed extensively in the process industry to detect and mitigate gas releases and minimise their potential consequences. The detection mechanisms differ between chemicals, and consideration must be given to selecting the correct technology for each application, along with practical considerations of installation, commissioning, and maintenance. Most of the current applications trigger an alarm for the operator based on high readings from gas detectors. However, with the industry push to incorporate safety gas sensors into shutdown systems, the need to design, calibrate and commission these sensors correctly to minimise nuisance trips is increasing in importance.

The gas detection system market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 8.64% through 2026, and for good reason. Primary concerns around safety, or fatal accidents owing to leakages, along with government regulations, security standards, and environmental safety regulations, are key drivers to that anticipated growth. With increasingly critical decisions reliant upon gas and particulate monitoring, the appetite for IR gas sensing is growing.

Like much of Umicore Coating Services’ work, it remains vital that the technology is adapted to the application, and so increasingly the firm is working with clients at an early stage of sourcing and defining optimum solutions.

The configuration of the hardware and firmware used can also greatly affect the performance and stability of an IR gas detector. The use of processors, algorithms and optical hardware configurations can make the difference between a highly stable device that minimises cross interference from other gases like CO2 and compounds such as water, or a device that produces spurious alarms and other operational issues.

Industrial gas detection is a mature market and one that continues to expand as devices become cheaper at the compliance end of the market and smarter at the top end. On one hand, Umicore Coating Services works with OEMs that are stripping their devices back to basics with a focus on functionality, cost and battery life for low-cost markets, and on the other, the company assists in driving advances such as connectivity, which is opening up new opportunities and allowing end users to use their devices in ways they haven’t before.

With a Point IR gas detector, one objective is to produce a device that does not require constant re-calibration. This gives maximum confidence in the operational performance of the detector and reduces the cost of ownership. Maximised uptime and performance are key benefits of IR gas detection over catalytic bead-based detectors, which require regular calibration due to loss of sensitivity throughout their operational life.

Another big factor in this device’s success is its filters and optical component configurations. By comparison, many models use software to mask design inadequacy, and this can lead to performance issues under various weather conditions and the occurrence of false alarms. The development of advanced internal fault diagnostics and false alarm rejection algorithms ensures many modern-day products boast the highest level of operational integrity.

The price and performance of devices is following a trajectory which is putting technology in the hands of those who most need it. And that’s why Umicore Coating Services’ infrared filters are used by some of the industry’s major players. They move seamlessly from the modern production facility in the UK and into a range of ready-now technologies that are helping customers meet their health, safety and sustainability goals.

Mark Naples is general manager at Umicore Coating Services

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