Gas chromatography takes to the skies

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  • Published: Jun 20, 2018
  • Source: Samara University
  • Channels: Gas Chromatography
thumbnail image: Gas chromatography takes to the skies

Thermo Scientific Q Exactive UHMR Hybrid Quadrupole-Orbitrap Mass Spectrometer

Airborne GC instrument in action.

Photo: Samara University.

Scientists at Samara University in Russia have developed an airborne gas chromatography (GC) instrument that weighs little more than a kilogram. It can provide accurate data on the composition of the atmosphere, determine oil and gas emissions, and analyze biomarkers in exhaled human breath within a few minutes.

The instrument is attached to an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) known as an ‘Indigo’, developed by engineers at Samara University’s Centre for Unmanned Systems. The resultant airborne device is capable of analyzing the atmosphere at altitudes of up to 1000m and within a radius of 2km from sources of air pollution.

In autonomous mode, the device can fly around potential sources of air pollution along a pre-determined route with designated emission points, analyze the air composition and transmit the data to a ground control centre. The process of analyzing atmospheric samples takes up to three minutes.

The device can also quickly record and track the concentration of substances in the air at different altitudes and distances from the pollution source. This will allow scientists to predict the direction of spread of atmospheric pollution more accurately.

The airborne device could prove of use to any industry that emits toxic substances into the atmosphere, including the oil and gas, chemical and energy industries. In addition, the device could be used in emergency situations, where a large number of measurements need to be made at several points in order to obtain a reliable picture and access to the source of pollution is difficult.

"Sampling for air analysis is often associated with the risk to the life of experts, as the toxic release sites are located at a decent altitude – on the upper tiers of production plants or on pipes," explains Vladimir Platonov, associate professor of chemistry at Samara University and one of the developers of the airborne GC instrument. "The mobile device will allow the analysis to be carried out ‘here and now’ and will secure the expert's work."

According to Platonov, also important is the fact that the sampling must be done at the point where the concentration of toxic substances is at a maximum. If the sampling takes place above or below this maximum concentration point, the results will be incorrect – the pollutants will be blown by the wind.

"Traditional analysis implies multi-stage: sampling, transportation, de-preservation and only then the analysis itself. In this case, the correctness of the research is not guaranteed, because when the samples are brought to the laboratory, the expert often does not even know the conditions in which they were collected," explains Platonov. "When using our development, the sampling is carried out directly at the focus of the maximum concentration of toxic substances and the error is leveled out."

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