MEMS and Sensors

CEA-Leti announces prototype of next-generation, low-cost photo-acoustic sensors for gas detection and analysis

20 March 2019

Leti, a research institute of CEA Tech, has announced prototype development of highly miniaturized, portable optical sensors for chemical detection of gas.

The next-generation, centimeter-size photo-acoustic sensors are based on mid-infrared photonic integrated circuits (MIR PICs). These silicon PICs, created by integrating optical circuits onto millimeter-size silicon chips, make extremely robust miniature systems, in which discrete components are replaced by on-chip equivalents. This makes them easier to use and reduces their cost dramatically, by at least a factor of 10.

Developed by the European Commission’s REDFINCH Project headed by CEA-Leti, the prototype photo-acoustic sensors were fabricated on a CMOS line in a miniaturized silicon photo-acoustic cell, which allows extreme integration.

In demonstrations, the sensors match the performance of bulky commercial gas-sensing systems commonly available today. They are targeted at applications such as process gas analysis in refineries, gas leak detection in petrochemical plants and pipelines and protein analysis in liquids for the dairy industry. An invited paper on the breakthrough, “Photo-acoustic cell on silicon for mid-infrared QCL-based spectroscopic analysis,” won Best Paper Award at Photonics West 2019.

The sensors consume less than 10 W in continuous operation and can be operated in a slow pulse-burst mode for infrastructure monitoring and when leaks are detected, the pulse frequency of the sensor automatically increases. This keeps average power consumption very low so the sensors can be battery-operated for more than a year or powered by an ambient energy harvester such as a solar cell.
The consortium members and contributions include:

  • Cork Institute of Technology (Ireland) — PIC design and fabrication, hybrid integration
  • Université de Montpellier (France) — Laser growth on Si, photodetector growth
  • Technische Universität Wien (Austria) — Liquid spectroscopy, assembly/test of sensors
  • MirSense (France) — MIR sensor products, laser module integration
  • Argotech a.s. (Czech Republic) — Assembly and packaging of PICs
  • Fraunhofer IPM (Germany) — Gas spectroscopy; instrument design/assembly
  • Endress+Hauser (Germany) — Process gas analysis and expertise, testing validation
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