Development of gas sensing technology for ground and airborne applications powered by solar energy : methodology and experimental results

Malaver Rojas, Jairo Alexander (2014) Development of gas sensing technology for ground and airborne applications powered by solar energy : methodology and experimental results. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Monitoring gases for environmental, industrial and agricultural fields is a demanding task that requires long periods of observation, large quantity of sensors, data management, high temporal and spatial resolution, long term stability, recalibration procedures, computational resources, and energy availability.

Wireless Sensor Networks (WSNs) and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are currently representing the best alternative to monitor large, remote, and difficult access areas, as these technologies have the possibility of carrying specialised gas sensing systems, and offer the possibility of geo-located and time stamp samples. However, these technologies are not fully functional for scientific and commercial applications as their development and availability is limited by a number of factors: the cost of sensors required to cover large areas, their stability over long periods, their power consumption, and the weight of the system to be used on small UAVs. Energy availability is a serious challenge when WSN are deployed in remote areas with difficult access to the grid, while small UAVs are limited by the energy in their reservoir tank or batteries. Another important challenge is the management of data produced by the sensor nodes, requiring large amount of resources to be stored, analysed and displayed after long periods of operation.

In response to these challenges, this research proposes the following solutions aiming to improve the availability and development of these technologies for gas sensing monitoring: first, the integration of WSNs and UAVs for environmental gas sensing in order to monitor large volumes at ground and aerial levels with a minimum of sensor nodes for an effective 3D monitoring; second, the use of solar energy as a main power source to allow continuous monitoring; and lastly, the creation of a data management platform to store, analyse and share the information with operators and external users. The principal outcomes of this research are the creation of a gas sensing system suitable for monitoring any kind of gas, which has been installed and tested on CH4 and CO2 in a sensor network (WSN) and on a UAV. The use of the same gas sensing system in a WSN and a UAV reduces significantly the complexity and cost of the application as it allows: a) the standardisation of the signal acquisition and data processing, thereby reducing the required computational resources; b) the standardisation of calibration and operational procedures, reducing systematic errors and complexity; c) the reduction of the weight and energy consumption, leading to an improved power management and weight balance in the case of UAVs; d) the simplification of the sensor node architecture, which is easily replicated in all the nodes.

I evaluated two different sensor modules by laboratory, bench, and field tests: a non-dispersive infrared module (NDIR) and a metal-oxide resistive nano-sensor module (MOX nano-sensor). The tests revealed advantages and disadvantages of the two modules when used for static nodes at the ground level and mobile nodes on-board a UAV.

Commercial NDIR modules for CO2 have been successfully tested and evaluated in the WSN and on board of the UAV. Their advantage is the precision and stability, but their application is limited to a few gases.

The advantages of the MOX nano-sensors are the small size, low weight, low power consumption and their sensitivity to a broad range of gases. However, selectivity is still a concern that needs to be addressed with further studies. An electronic board to interface sensors in a large range of resistivity was successfully designed, created and adapted to operate on ground nodes and on-board UAV.

The WSN and UAV created were powered with solar energy in order to facilitate outdoor deployment, data collection and continuous monitoring over large and remote volumes. The gas sensing, solar power, transmission and data management systems of the WSN and UAV were fully evaluated by laboratory, bench and field testing. The methodology created to design, developed, integrate and test these systems was extensively described and experimentally validated. The sampling and transmission capabilities of the WSN and UAV were successfully tested in an emulated mission involving the detection and measurement of CO2 concentrations in a field coming from a contaminant source; the data collected during the mission was transmitted in real time to a central node for data analysis and 3D mapping of the target gas.

The major outcome of this research is the accomplishment of the first flight mission, never reported before in the literature, of a solar powered UAV equipped with a CO2 sensing system in conjunction with a network of ground sensor nodes for an effective 3D monitoring of the target gas. A data management platform was created using an external internet server, which manages, stores, and shares the data collected in two web pages, showing statistics and static graph images for internal and external users as requested. The system was bench tested with real data produced by the sensor nodes and the architecture of the platform was widely described and illustrated in order to provide guidance and support on how to replicate the system.

In conclusion, the overall results of the project provide guidance on how to create a gas sensing system integrating WSNs and UAVs, how to power the system with solar energy and manage the data produced by the sensor nodes. This system can be used in a wide range of outdoor applications, especially in agriculture, bushfires, mining studies, zoology, and botanical studies opening the way to an ubiquitous low cost environmental monitoring, which may help to decrease our carbon footprint and to improve the health of the planet.

Impact and interest:

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ID Code: 74644
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Motta, Nunzio & Gonzalez, Felipe
Keywords: environmental monitoring, gas sensing system, gas sensors, MOX nanosensors, nanotechnology, silicon solar cells, solar powered unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), solar powered wireless sensor network (WSN), pollutant gases
Divisions: Current > Schools > School of Chemistry, Physics & Mechanical Engineering
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Science & Engineering Faculty
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 01 Aug 2014 02:47
Last Modified: 03 Sep 2015 04:12

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