Measuring the composition of a gas quickly and cheaply

A Ukrainian orders natural gas from a Russian supplier. However, will he receive the type of gas he has paid for? To analyse the composition of the gas quickly and cheaply at various locations along the pipeline, the company Qmicro is launching a handy device based on technology developed within NanoNextNL. ‘We expect to be able to sell several thousand devices per year from 2016 onwards,’ says business development manager Vincent Spiering.

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photocredits: Shutterstock

How can a technology developed for a healthcare application end up in the petrochemical industry? ‘With a forerunner of our company, we were involved in a NanoNextNL project focused on measuring tuberculosis in mucus,’ says Spiering. ‘We sought an easy, cheap and portable technology to be able to measure small quantities of viruses in a person’s mucus or breath, with the goal that the technology could be used cheaply and easily to establish diagnoses in poor countries. Within that project, Qmicro developed a miniature gas chromatograph that can measure the composition of gasses in a very short amount of time. That proved to be a valuable technology in many areas, including the oil and gas industry.’

highlight snel gas meten Qmicro Vincent Spiering NanoCity 15Vincent Spiering (business development manager Qmicro) presented his product during NanoCity 2015.

Cheap alternative

Spiering says the technology will be introduced to the petrochemical industry in 2016. ‘With this device, we will offer a cheap alternative in addition to the large industrial gas chromatographs used in factories. Those industrial chromatographs are expensive devices that need at least half an hour to complete an analysis. Our equipment can be used to quickly provide an extra check of another part of the production process or transport.’

Qmicro is able to keep its head above water without the need for external capital. We generate enough income from our consultancy work, in which we are collaborating on the design and development of gas chromatographs and other tailor-made microchip products.

Plug and play

The new gas chromatograph has several advantages due to its small size, explains Spiering. ‘The analysis is much faster: instead of 30 minutes, we need just 30 seconds to be able to determine what the composition of the gas is. In addition, we only need a small quantity of gas and we provide the complete assessment in a box.’ The model that he shows is plug and play and consists of a box several dozen centimetres in size, to which you can attach a separate cartridge with a maximum of four ovens. ‘These cartridges contain various columns with which you can measure different gases. The ovens ensure that you can discern the different gases even faster. An operator does not need to have any understanding of the analysis. He only needs to use the correct cartridge and our device provides a readout of the gas composition within 30 seconds.’

highlight snel en goedkoop gas meten Qmicro

Prototypes

The supplier of the small gas chromatograph Qmicro is working together with minority shareholder DEMCON, which is developing the hardware and firmware for the device. From previous companies, Spiering still has clients and a network he can use to test the first prototypes. ‘And we have received funding from NanoNextNL to further develop our product. We are putting the finishing touch to a prototype that we will send to several clients in 2016 on a trial basis.’

Nearest market first

Meanwhile, Qmicro is able to keep its head above water without the need for external capital, says Spiering proudly. ‘We generate enough income from our consultancy work, in which we are collaborating on the design and development of gas chromatographs and other tailor-made microchip products.’ With their own gas analysis product, Spiering wants to gradually penetrate different markets. ‘We will first start with natural gas producers, because that market is closer to us and less laborious than the medical market where you are confronted with obstacles, such as strict rules from the Food and Drug Administration. Nevertheless, one day we could well end up in Africa with a table-sized tuberculosis detector.’

Read more

Website Qmicro
Interview with Vincent Spiering about the tobacconist’s project in NanotexNL 2014, page 8