Gas Sensing Solutions
Profile Gas Sensing Solutions
Core business: CO2 sensors
Turnover: Approaching £1 million
It's usually “last one out, turn out the lights,” but a new type of sensor developed in Scotland by a company called Gas Sensing Solutions (GSS) promises to revolutionise the way we manage buildings by detecting how many people are in different rooms, using smart wireless networks of low-power sensors to optimise office conditions – and save lots of energy and money in the process. And according to GSS Chairman and CEO Des Gibson, this is only one of many applications for the new technology.
Gibson has 30 years’ experience in industry, including spells at Barr & Stroud, Pilkington and Carclo plc, before moving on to set up three successful optical-based businesses. With a PhD in thin film optics from Queen’s University, Belfast, he also has a good understanding of the science involved in the development of GSS products.
The company was founded in 2006 by sales and marketing director Alan Henderson, and Gibson first got interested later that year when he did due diligence on behalf of Tweed Renaissance Investors Capital (TRI Cap) and Scottish Enterprise Co-Investment Fund. And he liked the company and its new technology so much, he not only invested his own money but managed to get himself appointed the Chairman.
“What stimulated me,” he says, “was the market potential. This was a new type of CO2 sensor for a wide range of applications – including building control systems – which could not only help to improve air quality and ensure safety, but also save energy and therefore money.”
The new technology was also very different. The sensors developed by GSS use a unique semiconductor-based mid-infrared light source and detector combination.
In simple terms, this means using light to measure gas (CO2) levels based on the fact that different gases absorb light at specific wavelengths. And what gives the GSS products the edge is that they use solid state light sources and detectors instead of incandescent light bulbs and pydroelectric detectors, a new combination which greatly reduces the power consumption and also speeds up the process – from minutes to seconds.
Another key factor that clinched it for Gibson and other investors was that this was a “legislation-driven” market, with authorities in the US, Europe and Asia about to put the finishing touches to new regulations for building controls. And thanks to this new emphasis on energy efficiency, the GSS sensors will be used by leading building control system suppliers, enabling offices to fine-tune their heating, lighting and air-conditioning systems by measuring CO2 levels to calculate how many people are using particular spaces, and adjusting accordingly.
According to Gibson, GSS has two key advantages over all other gas sensor solutions. First, the device is battery-operated and requires no hard wiring. The sensors use up to 1/50th of the power of standard light sources and detectors, and they stabilise immediately so you can measure the level of gas straight away, unlike previous sensors which took up to ten minutes to warm up. And this adds up to 1/2,000th of the energy used and means a single battery will last for several years. Ultimately, the sensors will be self-powered, using power-scavenging technologies such as solar cells.
Because the new technology is different, it also requires a new approach to production, and GSS has turned to the University of Glasgow to help it research and develop new mid-infrared sources and detectors. Moreover, the electronics and nanoscale engineering research division at Glasgow University, headed by Professor Iain Thayne, is working with GSS to implement new manufacturing methods which will result in high-throughput production capability.
As further evidence of the strong bonds between the two organisations, GSS and Glasgow University recently secured an industrial CASE Studentship, to focus on research to improve GSS's mid-infra-red device technology. The award is jointly funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and GSS.
The company is also working with the University of Strathclyde on research into optics, while the University of the West of Scotland's microsensors group is helping it model the sensors. “All three universities have worked well,” says Gibson, “and kept their focus. When universities work with industry, they need a change of mindset, and our relationship with all three has been highly successful.”
Because it clearly has significant market potential and has four patents, GSS has attracted the interest of several investors and has already been through five rounds of funding. For the last five years, most of the company's efforts have been focused on research and development, setting up a global distribution network, building partnerships with industry and establishing production capability, but since it started active sales a year ago, turnover is already approaching £1 million.
Based in Cumbernauld, the company sources components from various countries, including China, and then integrates and calibrates all the components in-house, with a team of 16 people running the show, including Henderson and Gibson, plus financial director John Burgon and engineering & operations director Calum MacGregor.
GSS recently secured first place in the regional final of a Shell Springboard Competition, based on the potential offered by the company’s products for energy reduction.
Building control systems promise to be a huge source of demand for the company’s products, but other markets also have significant potential, including horticulture, with networks of smart sensors helping to optimise plant growth, and safety applications in various industries, as well as mining, diving, automotive (in-cabin) and transport systems. Future products will be used to measure methane – further extending the company’s market.
New GSS sensors
Gas Sensing Solutions (GSS) recently launched a new range of CO2 sensors trademarked as COZIR, designed for use in battery-powered applications such as hand-held devices and wireless systems, where low duty cycle is important to maximise battery life.
The benefits of the new sensors include:
> Low power consumption
> Battery operated 3.3 volts
> Auto calibration
> Compatible with wireless communications
> Minimal power-up time
> Standard digital output
The new sensors reach full accuracy less than two seconds after powering up, and extremely low power consumption can be achieved by powering down between measurements.
The sensors can be easily fitted into handheld portable devices and wall-mounted control systems, and come in two ranges:
> COZIR ambient (diameter 43mm, height 15mm) – for applications such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), indoor air quality (IAQ), education and horticulture.
> COZIR wide-range (diameter 18mm, height 20mm) – suitable for process control applications such as diving, industrial, safety and automotive.
According to GSS, the new sensors measure CO2 levels twice every second and consume only 3.5mW in continuous operation – 50 times less than standard non-dispersive infra-red (NDIR) sensors. The new range utilises GSS’s patented mid-infrared optics and light source detector technology.
GSS also recently launched an ultra-high-speed version of the sensor called SprintIR, which samples 20 measurements per second. SprintIR is aimed at applications requiring absolute real time CO2 response, such as temporal measurement of CO2 exhalation, in-flow process control and analytical instrumentation.