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Micro and nanosystems

Taking gas chromatography out of the lab

Primosens is a miniaturized and portable gas chromatography system developed under a French government CBRN-E counterterrorism program. It can detect the presence of a given gas in a mixture right at the testing site. The advance also offers potential for use in fields other than counterterrorism.

Published on 20 May 2019

​The on-site testing of gas mixtures using chromatography could potentially be of use in fields like civil security, industrial site monitoring, and medicine. Leti, a CEA Tech institute, developed a system called Primosens, a miniaturized, low-power version of the lab technique that could be of interest to industrial customers.

Gas chromatography first appeared in the 1950s. Until now, it has been relegated to the lab. Elements of the gas sample are placed inside an injector and transported by a carrier gas to chromatography columns measuring several meters long, where the gases are separated according to their physical and chemical characteristics, and then identified using techniques like mass spectrometry.

In this case, the researchers successfully integrated the different elements onto silicon chips measuring just a few square centimeters. They did away with the need for a carrier gas and the associated gas tanks. In addition, a drastic reduction in the size of the system to heat resulted in energy consumption 100 times lower than a conventional system—low enough to be powered by a battery. All without compromising performance. Ultimately, the goal is to achieve sensitivity of 1 part per billion.

Primosens is a plug-and-play system that is easy to use, portable, and effective. Talks are already underway with industrial partners interested in manufacturing and selling the system.

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