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Imec and Holst Centre report single-chip ethylene sensor to monitor fruit ripening

May 15, 2012 // Julien Happich

Imec and Holst Centre report single-chip ethylene sensor to monitor fruit ripening

Imec and Holst Centre have demonstrated a single-chip electrochemical sensor for ethylene monitoring with a detection limit of 200-300ppb (parts per billion).

This solution enables small-size and low-cost ethylene detection systems applicable in the fruit distribution and retail sector. Ethylene is a gaseous plant hormone, produced by fruit, and responsible for the ripening of fruit. It is also sprayed in high concentrations (around 1,000 ppm) in the warehouse, to force fruit to ripen, so it is ready to eat when it reaches consumers. Inexpensive and accurate ethylene sensors would enable better control of that process, and allow the distribution sector and retailers to avoid waste. Today's ethylene detection systems are lab-scale, expensive table-top devices, not suitable for the above mentioned applications.

Imec and Holst Centre’s ethylene sensor is a low-cost electrochemical sensor based on a non-acidic electrolyte that does not evaporate. It can be fabricated on cheap substrates such as glass or foil. Recent improvements have shown that the ethylene sensor is able to detect 100ppb steps in concentrations below 1ppm, which makes it directly useful in warehouse applications. To our knowledge, it is the first time that a single-chip ethylene sensor has been demonstrated combining low, industrially relevant detection limits with low power consumption and low cost.

The chip is ready for industrialization, to be integrated into ethylene measurement and control systems and further miniaturization is under way, with research being carried out to increase the performance towards lower detection limits (at around 10 to 20 ppb) to enable other applications such as monitoring of plants, vegetables or flowers in greenhouses. The development of dedicated read-out electronics could enable further miniaturization of the system as a whole, and the use of flexible substrates could pave the way for smart food crop packaging.

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