Gas detector

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Portable gas detector

A gas detector is a device which detects the presence of various gases within an area, usually as part of a safety system. This type of equipment is used to detect a gas leak and interface with a control system so a process can be automatically shut down. A gas detector can also sound an alarm to operators in the area where the leak is occurring, giving them the opportunity to leave the area. This type of device is important because there are many gases that can be harmful to organic life, such as humans or animals.

Gas detectors can be used to detect combustible, flammable and toxic gases, and oxygen depletion. This type of device is used widely in industry and can be found in a variety of locations such as on oil rigs, to monitor manufacture processes and emerging technologies such as photovoltaic. They may also be used in firefighting.


Gas detectors can be classified according to the operation mechanism (semiconductors, oxidation, catalytic, infrared, etc.). Gas detectors come in two main types: portable devices and fixed gas detectors.

Portable detectors are used to monitor the atmosphere around personnel and are worn on clothing or on a belt/harness. These gas detectors are usually battery operated. They transmit warnings via a series of audible and visible signals such as alarms and flashing lights, when dangerous levels of gas vapors are detected. As detectors measure a gas concentration, the sensor responds to a calibration gas, which serves as the reference point or scale. As a sensor’s detection exceeds a preset alarm level, the alarm or signal will be activated. As units, gas detectors are produced as portable or stationary devices. Originally, detectors were produced to detect a single gas, but modern units may detect several toxic or combustible gases, or even a combination of both types.[1]

Fixed type gas detectors may be used for detection of one or more gas types. Fixed type detectors are generally mounted near the process area of a plant or control room. Generally, they are installed on fixed type mild steel structures, and a cable connects the detectors to a SCADA system for continuous monitoring. A tripping interlock can be activated for an emergency situation.

Newer gas analyzers can break up the component signals in a complicated aroma to identify several gasses simultaneously.[2]


All gas detectors must be calibrated on a schedule. Of the two types of gas detectors, portables must be calibrated more frequently due to the regular changes in environment they experience. A typical calibration schedule for a fixed system may be quarterly, bi-annually or even annually with some of the more robust units. A typical calibration schedule for a portable gas detector is a daily bump test accompanied by a monthly calibration.[3] Almost every portable gas detector requires a specific calibration gas which is available from the manufacturer. In the US, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) may also set minimum standards for periodic recalibration.[citation needed]

Challenge (bump) test[edit]

As a gas detector is used for employee/worker safety, it is very important to make sure it is operating to manufacturer's specifications. Australian standards specify that a person operating any gas detector is strongly advised to check the gas detector's performance each day, and that it is maintained and used in accordance with the manufacturers instructions and warnings.[4]

A challenge test should consist of exposing the gas detector to a known concentration of gas to ensure that the gas detector will respond and that both the audible and visual alarms activate. It is also important inspect the gas detector for any accidental or deliberate damage by checking that the housing and screws are all intact to prevent any liquid ingress and that the filter is clean, all of which can affect the functionality of the gas detector. The basic calibration or challenge test kit will consist of: Calibration Gas / Regulator / Calibration Cap and hose (generally supplied with the gas detector at time of purchase) and a case for storage and transport. Because 1 in every 2,500 untested instruments will fail to respond to a dangerous concentration of gas, many large businesses will utilize an automated test/calibration station for use to bump test and calibrate their gas detectors daily.[5]

Oxygen concentration[edit]

Oxygen deficiency gas monitors are used for employee and workforce safety. Cryogenic substances such as liquid nitrogen (LN2), liquid helium (He), and liquid argon (Ar) are inert and can displace oxygen (O2) in a confined space if a leak is present. A rapid decrease of oxygen can provide a very dangerous environment for employees, who may not notice this problem before they suddenly lose consciousness. With this in mind, an oxygen gas monitor is important to have when cryogenics are present. Laboratories, MRI rooms, pharmaceutical, semiconductor, and cryogenic suppliers are typical users of oxygen monitors.

Oxygen fraction in a breathing gas is measured by electro-galvanic fuel cell sensors. They may be used stand-alone, for example to determine the proportion of oxygen in a nitrox mixture used in scuba diving,[6] or as part of feedback loop which maintains a constant partial pressure of oxygen in a rebreather.[7]

Hydrocarbons and VOCs[edit]

Detection of hydrocarbons can be based on the mixing properties of gaseous hydrocarbons – or other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – and the sensing material incorporated in the sensor. The selectivity and sensitivity depends on the molecular structure of the VOC and the concentration; however it is difficult to design a selective sensor for a single VOC. Many VOC sensors detect using a fuel-cell technique.

VOCs in the environment or certain atmospheres can be detected based on different principles and interactions between the organic compounds and the sensor components. There are electronic devices that can detect ppm concentrations despite not being particularly selective. Others can predict with reasonable accuracy the molecular structure of the volatile organic compounds in the environment or enclosed atmospheres[8] and could be used as accurate monitors of the Chemical Fingerprint and further as health monitoring devices.

Solid-phase microextraction(SPME)techniques are used to collect VOCs at low concentrations for analysis.[9]

Considerations for detection of hydrocarbon gases /risk control[edit]

  • Methane is lighter than air (possibility of accumulation under roofs)
  • Ethane is slightly heavier than air (possibility of pooling at ground levels / pits)
  • Propane is heavier than air (possibility of pooling at ground levels / pits)
  • Butane is heavier than air (possibility of pooling at ground levels / pits)




The European Community has supported research called the MINIGAS project that was coordinated by VTT Technical Research Center of Finland.[10] This research project aims to develop new types of photonics-based gas sensors, and to support the creation of smaller instruments with equal or higher speed and sensitivity than conventional laboratory-grade gas detectors.[10]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ How Gas Detectors Work
  2. ^ Wali, Russeen (2012). "An electronic nose to differentiate aromatic flowers using a real-time information-rich piezoelectric resonance measurement". Procedia Chemistry. doi:10.1016/j.proche.2012.10.146. 
  3. ^ Moore, James. "Calibration: Who Needs It?". Occupational Health and Safety Magazine. 
  4. ^ Colhoun, Jacquie. "Who is responsible for bump/challenge testing your gas detector". 
  5. ^ Bump test saves lives
  6. ^ Lang, M.A. (2001). DAN Nitrox Workshop Proceedings. Durham, NC: Divers Alert Network. p. 197. Retrieved 2009-03-20. 
  7. ^ Goble, Steve (2003). "Rebreathers". South Pacific Underwater Medicine Society Journal 33 (2): 98–102. Retrieved 2009-03-20. 
  8. ^ MartíNez-Hurtado, J. L.; Davidson, C. A. B.; Blyth, J.; Lowe, C. R. (2010). "Holographic Detection of Hydrocarbon Gases and Other Volatile Organic Compounds". Langmuir 26 (19): 15694–9. doi:10.1021/la102693m. PMID 20836549. 
  9. ^ Lattuati-Derieux, Agnès; Bonnassies-Termes, Sylvette; Lavédrine, Bertrand (2004). "Identification of volatile organic compounds emitted by a naturally aged book using solid-phase microextraction/gas chromatography/mass spectrometry". Journal of Chromatography A 1026 (1–2): 9–18. doi:10.1016/j.chroma.2003.11.069. PMID 14870711. 
  10. ^ a b Matthew Peach, "Photonics-based MINIGAS project yields better gas detectors." Jan 29, 2013. Retrieved Feb 15, 2013.