Miniaturized gas sensors for high-resolution carbon dioxide mapping

A powerful tool in tracing the sources and characterizing the underlying processes responsible for carbon emissions is quantifying the natural abundance of stable carbon isotopes (12C and 13C) in CO2. Currently, such measurements are either done by snapshot sampling in the field, i.e. by filling evacuated glass flasks with gaseous samples that are subsequently brought back to the laboratory for analysis using gas chromatography and mass spectroscopy, or conducted in the field using IR spectroscopy techniques. The snapshot methodology has its obvious limitation in capturing temporal variability. Furthermore, both field and laboratory-based instruments for analyzing stable carbon isotopes are very expensive (>300 000 SEK), which means that most research groups only can afford a single measurement unit. This is a major problem since most emission and transformation processes show considerable spatial and temporal variations.

A robust, mobile, power-efficient, and low-cost instrument capable of quantifying the amount of 13C and 12C in gaseous and liquid samples with adequate precision could solve this Gordian knot, however, this requires thinking outside the box. Hence, we propose to use new technology – microplasma emission spectroscopy – to create an instrument capable of large-scale isotope ratio measurements in the field. However, this requires extensive research in fundamental engineering science. Creating instrumentation and methodology accurate enough to enable such groundbreaking isotope measurements is a very ambitious goal. However, should the project be successful, it will lay the foundation of a completely new kind of experiment that will not only benefit studies of GHG evasion in all of environmental science.

The measured isotope signal shows a clear linearity depending on the actual isotope composition of the sample within the range relevant for most applications.
Examples of the ability of advanced technology to quantify carbon isotopes.

Funded by

Formas 2016-2019

Time period

2016 –2022

Partner organizations

Dept Materials Science and Engineering, Uppsala University

Project leader

Anders Persson, Microsystems Technology, Uppsala University

Project members

Erika Åkerfeldt, Microsystems Technology, Uppsala University

Marcus Wallin, Department of Aquatic Sciences and Assessment, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

Last modified: 2022-04-04