Measurement and Testing

  • Ion Science Tiger PID Integrated into Unmanned Aerial Vehicle as Part of Exciting Italian Research Project

Ion Science Tiger PID Integrated into Unmanned Aerial Vehicle as Part of Exciting Italian Research Project

Jan 19 2021

Specially designed drone successfully used for accurate and fast mapping of volatile organic compounds leaking from industrial petrochemical plants

As part of an exciting research project led by the University of Catania’s Department of Chemical Sciences, a Tiger portable photoionisation detector (PID) from ION Science leading manufacturer of high performance gas detection instrumentation for occupational health and environmental monitoring applications – has recently been integrated into an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) by Italian businesses TEKNE s.r.l. and MCX s.r.l.

The research group, which was headed up by Professor Nunzio Tuccitto, physical-chemist at the University of Catania, investigated and overcame the limitations associated with the use of UVAs (drones) in the chemical mapping of pollutant volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from a point source such as petrochemical plants, large landfills and petrol stations, for environmental impact assessments, risk analysis and emergency planning*.

MCX s.r.l. is an innovative start up business operating in the industrial automation market. TEKNE s.r.l. is an engineering company offering valuable expertise in a wide range of consultancy services including geological and geotechnical studies and applications using UAVs such as topographic surveys with aerophotogrammetry, georeferenced thermographic surveys, environmental monitoring, control of areas after disasters and census of cultivated areas.

The research was focused on distribution of VOCs at petrochemical plants, refineries and other chemical facilities where odour comfort, air composition and the health and safety of employees is crucial.

Drones mounted with sensors have been used previously for monitoring VOCs. However, if the drone is close to the source, the results can be influenced by blade-induced turbulence.

Working in conjunction with the research group, MCX and TEKNE developed a prototype drone for conducting leak detection experiments on a tank of petrol at the Avio Club airfields located in Siracusa. An ION Science Tiger VOC monitor with sampling probe consisting of a teflon tube fitted with a dust filter was attached to the base of the drone using a custom designed polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) adapter with a 3D printer.

The drone with Tiger PID monitored the levels of VOCs escaping spontaneously from the tank of petrol placed on the ground with the results provided in parts per billion (ppb) isobutylene.

By simulating the pollutant spatial distribution in the absence and presence of a flying drone, the research group demonstrated that turbulent flows generated by UAVs can significantly limit the spatial accuracy of the mapping and source of the leak. However, it was possible to overcome this by using a sufficiently long probe equipped with an aspiration apparatus transporting the sample from the ground to the Tiger equipped UAV.

The data collected by the drone was stored in the Tiger PID’s internal memory whilst the processing was performed post-operation, using a standard laptop. The concentration was linked to the GPS position of the drone using timestamps and the devices were synchronised with the input clocks.

A spokesperson for MCX and TEKNE comments: “The early detection of leaks of pollutants, hazardous or explosive substances is more important than ever before. We can never let our guard down when dealing with the production and handling of dangerous or explosive substances or pollutants.

“Some of our team had used ION Science instruments successfully in the past but we chose the Tiger PID for this project due to its fast detection response, long sampling probe and data logging functionality.

“By incorporating the Tiger PID with probe of appropriate length into the drone we overcame the effect of turbulence, and succeeded in developing a small but effective flying chemical laboratory which can map large areas and detect chemical leaks quickly and accurately. It really is a game-changer and several companies within the petrochemical industry have already shown interest.”

ION Science’s Tiger handheld VOC gas detector incorporates the company’s patented PID sensor technology with humidity resistance and anti-contamination design, proven to dramatically extend run time in the field.

The instrument provides a dynamic detection range of 0 to 20,000 parts per million (ppm) with a minimum sensitivity of 0.001 parts per billion (1 ppb), offering the widest measurement range of any VOC detector on the market.

ION Science’s Tiger has a fast response time of just two seconds and can be connected directly to a PC via the USB offering extremely fast data download capabilities.

Ready to use, straight out of the box, the Tiger does not require complicated set up procedures to perform basic functions and provides the best available VOC detection and software features.

The Tiger has been designed for the safe replacement of batteries in hazardous environments. The instrument is fully charged in 6.5 hours with the long life rechargeable Li-ion batteries ensuring 24 hours of use.

It boasts a torch and large, backlit keypad for low conditions and slim design for convenient one-handed operation with easy to access sensor, electrode stack and lamp. The Intrinsically Safe (IS) instrument also meets ATEX, IECEx, UL and CSA standards and is IP65 rated against water ingress.

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