Carbon Dioxide detection research given boost

A detector so sensitive it can register a single molecule of carbon dioxide – that’s the goal that Professor Harry Ruda and his colleagues are working towards

February 4, 2013

A detector so sensitive it can register a single molecule of carbon dioxide: that’s the goal that Professor Harry Ruda and his colleagues are working towards.

And that goal is getting a little closer, thanks to a $350,000 three-year grant from Carbon Management Canada.

Ruda, Harry E.

Photo: Harry E. Ruda, Professor & Stan Meek Chair in Advanced Nanotechnology

Professor Ruda, holder of the Stan Meek Chair in Advanced Nanotechnology, directs U of T Engineering’s Centre for Advanced Nanotechnology. He’ll be working with David Risk of St. Francis Xavier University on the carbon dioxide sensor project.

Current sensors used to detect carbon dioxide at surface sites are either very expensive, or they use a lot of energy, Professor Ruda says. And they’re not as accurate as they could be. Improving the accuracy of measuring and monitoring stored carbon dioxide is seen as key to winning public acceptance of carbon capture and storage as a greenhouse gas mitigation method.

The sensor technology needed to monitor and validate the amount of carbon dioxide being emitted has not kept pace with the development of other technologies required for carbon capture and storage, says Professor Ruda.

“This is especially true when it comes to surface monitoring verification and accounting (MVA),” he says. “Improving MVA is essential to meet the potential of carbon capture and storage.”

And that’s where the ultra-sensitive sensor comes in. “It’s good for sounding the alarm,” says Professor Ruda. “But it’s also good from a regulatory point of view because you want to able to tell people to keep things to a certain level, and you need sensors to ensure accurate monitoring of industrial and subsurface environments.”

His concept is a single nanowire transistor that would have unprecedented sensitivity for detecting carbon dioxide emissions. “The way things behave at the nano scale is different than the traditional or micron scale. We’ve been working in this area for nearly 20 years, and we are among the leaders in developing the know-how for nano sensors.”

The sensors could provide complete topographic and temporal mapping of carbon emissions, which would help in the design of new protocols for carbon storage and recovery systems as well provide the means for enforcing regulations – all of which will enable markedly reduced emissions.

Carbon Management Canada (CMC) is a national network with representatives from academia, government and industry that supports research to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the fossil energy industry, as well as from other large stationary emitters. The grant is part of CMC’s third round of funding which saw the network award $3.75 million to Canadian researchers working on eight different projects.