Project status: In progress

QUT is creating a new class of gas sensors for data collection in remote areas, by using integrated nanomaterials. Nanowires and nanotubes have been recently used in sensing devices, displaying significant increase in sensor performance and low power consumptions.  The sensors will be powered by a new kind of environmentally friendly Dye Sensitized Solar Cells solar cell developed in Australia by Dyesol, and will transmit data to monitoring stations using wireless or radio networks.

The technology advance rendered by this project will enable improved monitoring of the environment in remote areas, especially in mining and agricultural contexts, leading to industrial and ecological benefits.

Greenhouse gases like ammonia (NH3) and nitrous oxide (N2O) from manure and fertilizers, and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) from combustion engines will be monitored by these sensors.

Read details

  • Smart Futures Fund - National and International Research Alliances Program 2008-09
  • QUT
  • International / national partners
  • Queensland-based partners
  • National and International Research Alliances Program - $1,332,877
  • QUT - $657,172
  • International/national partners - $1,102,472
  • Queensland-based partners - $198,552
  • Total funding for project - $3,291,073

Research leader
Research team
QUT External collaborators

University of Brescia - SensorLab

  • Guido Faglia
  • Matteo Ferroni
University of Rome 'Tor Vergata' - Department of Physics
  • Maurizio De Crescenzi
  • Anna Sgarlata
  • Manuela Scarselli

University of Rome "Tor Vergata" - Department of Electronics Engineering

  • Aldo Di Carlo

CQUniversity - Faculty of Sciences, Engineering and Health

  • Kerry Walsh
  • David Midmore
Organisational unit
Lead unit Science and Engineering Faculty
Start date
1 April 2009
End date
31 March 2012
Research areas


Project aims

The primary aim of the project is to develop cheap sensors to control the release of poisoning and greenhouse gases like ammonia (NH3) and nitrous oxide (N2O) from manure and fertilizers, and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) from combustion engines pollution.

More specifically the aims of the project are:

  • To identify the key range of environmental gases and pollutants and sensor systems to monitor these
  • To create innovative sensing devices based on metal oxide nanowires and carbon nanotubes
  • To develop the techniques to integrate these devices with Dye-sensitized solar cells (DSC)
  • To provide suitable electronic for data collection and transmission
  • To test the prototype systems in the laboratory and in the field

Project objectives

In realizing the above aims, and as defined in section C of the Solar Powered Nanosensors NIRAP Grant application the objectives of the Solar Powered Nanosensors project are based around the development of 6 steps:

Substrate preparation

  • Substrate patterning by Focused Ion Beam

Solar cell production and integration

  • TiO2 Paste preparation, study of solid electrolytes, dye sensitizing, electrode realization
  • Field tests

Material growth

  • Growth of nanostructures (nanowires/nanotubes)

Material sensitization

  • Sensitize the wires/tubes with appropriate materials to detect three gases (NH3, N2O, NO2)

Sensor assembling

  • Wiring and contacting
  • Bench measurement of the sensitivity

Sensor integration

  • Development of the electronic board
  • Integration of the sensing device
  • Sealing of the system
  • Field tests

Project outcomes

The expected outcomes from the Solar Powered Nanosensors project include:

  • Development of I.P. in enabling technology for commercialization by industry partners
  • The generation of high-quality research publications
  • Participation in national and international conferences
  • Media releases and other public relation activities (e.g. interviews, conferences, etc.)

Project milestones

A schedule of the milestones corresponding to the key stages of the project towards meeting its objectives has been established and detailed.

Proposed project start date: 01/04/2009
Proposed project completion date: 31/03/2012

  • Milestone 1: Substrate preparation and DSC cell production and testing
  • Milestone 2: Material Growth and field tests of DSC cells
  • Milestone 3: Material studies, sensitisation, and testing of electronics
  • Milestone 4: Bench test devices
  • Milestone 5: Sensor assembly and field tests
  • Milestone 6: Sensor integration and field testing

Facilities - QUT

Solar powered - focus ion beam

Focused ion beam

A focussed ion beam (FIB) is an instrument that can obtain images of a sample by scanning it with a high-energy ion beam (Ga+). The metal ions strongly interact with the matter, thus a FIB provides two functions by atomic sputtering: nano-machining and nano-deposition. Owing to the very small size of the beam, this FIB can mill patterns on any substrate with a resolution of ~10 nm. It is also capable of fabricating nanostructures on a surface by depositing platinum.

Solar powered - optical table

Optical table

The photovoltaic module testing system feature a light source that closely matches the solar spectrum for the analysis of the device performance under sun simulation condition.

  • Photoconductivity characterisation under simulated sunlight (AM 1.5)
  • Complete voltage-current curve measurement
  • Spectral characterisation: wavelengths selected by a monochromator (300-1100 nm range)
  • Si photodiode for sunlight calibration and power control (1000 W/m2)

Facilities - University of Brescia sensor lab

Solar powered - electrical gas sensors

Electrical gas sensors testing

  • Advanced system for measurement of DC and AC electrical response of 10 sensors to six different gases or mixtures, at variable humidity and controlled temperature.
  • Thin film or nanostructured materials sensors
  • Ozone generator based on a thermo-stated UV lamp discharge
  • Long term measurements
  • Kelvin probe measurement
  • Photoactivated characterisation
Solar powered - electrical gas sensors

Optical gas sensors testing

  • Experimental setup for measuring optical (photoluminescence, reflectivity) and electrical (conductivity, contact potential drop and surface photo voltage) properties as a function of a gaseous environment at atmospheric pressure.
  • Optical bench equipped with a gas chamber and a quartz window
  • Light sources: Ar laser (55 mW at 488nm and 514 nm and 10 mW at 457nm), a Xe-Hg Lamp in the UV range coupled with a bandpass filters, a Quartz Tungsten Halogen (QTH) Lamp (20 W). A single monochromator-spectrograph is used for selection of the wavelength. Peltier cooled CCD camera, 1024 x 128 pixel to detect the optical signal (a CCD camera is less sensitive but much faster than a phototube).
  • Detect resistance phoactivated response, photoluminescence and reflectance spectra (1eV-4eV range)
  • Kelvin probe head placed inside the chamber measures the Surface Photo Voltage
  • Microfurnace to heat up the sample in the range RT-40-C.
  • Test chamber at constant temperature (20 degrees celcius). Synthetic air as a gas carrier at atmospheric pressure. Measurements performed at constant relative humidity.

Device fabrication

  • Two Magnetron Sputtering Plants in a class 100 clean room
  • DC and RF sputtering
  • Loadlock Systems
  • Plant controlled thermal Co-evaporation and Co-sputtering, with cryogenic pump
  • Three furnaces for thermal oxidation in dry or humid air and treatments in inert atmosphere
  • Two microwelders for wire bonding and packaging of sensors
  • Precision spin-coating system
  • Two stations for ageing of the samples.


Datafeed 1
QUT - S Block Roof
Brisbane, Australia

This datafeed includes the Gas Readings and Solar Panel information on QUT's S Block Roof in Brisbane, Australia. Additional datafeeds including more gas sensors will be included soon!

Datafeed 1 - Solar Panel

Solar Panel Feed

Location: QUT Gardens Point S Block
Datafeed Type: Solar Panel + CO2 Gas Sensor
Solar Panel: Dye Sensitized Solar Panel
Active Surface: 786 cm2
Gas Sensor Type: CO2 - Infrared
Gas Sensor Scale: 0 - 1000 PPM

Voltage - Units (V)

Close (x)



Current - Units (mA)

Close (x)



CO2 - Units (PPM)

Close (x)



Irradiance - Units (W/m2)

Close (x)



Power - Units (mW)

Close (x)



Efficiency - Units (%)

Close (x)



Temperature - Units (deg C)

Close (x)



Datafeed 1 - Gas Sensor #1