Electronic Nose Sniffs Out Landfill Waste

Scientists at the University of Manchester (Manchester, United Kingdom) announced on Jan. 5 they have invented a new device which remotely monitors bad odors and methane gases at waste landfill and water treatment sites.

The device, which works like an electronic nose, could be the solution for many communities and waste management companies that regularly encounter problems with bad odors and air pollution.

There are currently more than 4,000 licensed landfill sites in the UK. Methane gas and odors are produced by decomposing waste.

Currently there is no other instrumentation sensitive enough to monitor low concentrations of odors and gases on these sites. Gases and odors are analyzed manually using handheld detectors and by panels of volunteers asked to smell samples of air.

The new device has four sensors which analyze the composition of gases in the air. Air is sucked into the device at regular intervals and then profiled. The chemical profile of the air is then sent in real-time via a built-in GPS modem to a remote computer. Based on the concentration of various chemicals, the system is able to determine whether the methane gases or odors have reached an unacceptable level. The air is then filtered before being expelled back into the atmosphere.

Professor Krishna Persaud (http://www.mib.ac.uk/Faculty/group.asp?id=44), who has developed the device, said: "What this device offers is the ability to monitor these levels in real-time, enabling waste companies to act before levels reach an unacceptable level.

"Ultimately, this device has the potential to create a much healthier environment which will benefit both local communities and waste management companies by alerting them to the build up of bad odors and enabling them to ensure monitor methane emissions remain at a safe level," Persuad said.

Developed in collaboration with the Silsoe Research Institute (http://www.sri.bbsrc.ac.uk, the device has already been successfully tested at the Brookhurst Wood Waste Land Fill Site (West Sussex), near Gatwick Airport. Five of the devices have been positioned around the perimeter of the site since May 2005. Persaud also is working with a major UK water company to monitor foreign chemicals and materials in water which is processed through water treatment plants.

This article originally appeared in the 01/01/2006 issue of Environmental Protection.

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