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Department of Chemical Engineering and Analytical Science

Multisensor Systems' E-Nose 'smells' fuel in water

Early detection of fuel leaks is vital in order to improve methods of risk assessment and management, and to ultimately prevent costly incidents where oil leaks into rivers and waterways.

A reservoir in the sunlight

Beginning with basic fundamental research, academics from the Department began developing practical applications as far back as 1993 in order to combat this issue. Their research aimed to develop a measurement system that was able to detect, monitor and predict the odour concentrations that characterise gas and fuel leaks in a way that correlated with human detection of smell.

Initial work focused on gas sensing array systems and went on to adopt a novel design approach, ultimately creating an online system that used non-contact technology for the detection of trace gases in the water process industry. The research was published in peer reviewed journals and in 1999, in recognition of his research into monitoring systems, lead academic Professor Krishna Persaud received the Royal Academy of Engineering Silver Medal.

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200 E-Nose sensors in use around the globe.

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£435,000 annual turnover at Multisensor Systems.

From these beginnings a number of E-Nose instruments for different applications were developed. An instrument went on to be tested and endorsed by the Water Research Council UK for water contamination monitoring.

A practical application for this odour concentration detection technology had been found and its real-world value was confirmed when pilot sales to major UK water companies in 2008 generated £150,000.

Around 200 E-Nose units are now in use worldwide and are marketed by University spin-out company Multisensor Systems, which began trading in 2007.

For Multisensor System customers the E-Nose product has proved its value. In 2012 the sensor gave advance warning of a fuel line failure, saving Cummins Engineering Company more than £50,000 in costs associated with fuel loss, clean-up, Environment Agency fines and legal costs.

Multisensor System also produces a system for detecting volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in waste water and water treatment plants. Today it is used widely across the UK, for example by Anglian Water Services, the largest water and waste water company in England and Wales.

If each of the E-Nose 50 VOC units sold to date prevents just one incident, it is estimated that companies would save over £100 million in mitigated losses and costs.


Regulations limit the levels of carcinogenic trihalomethanes (THMs) allowed in drinking water, requiring specific monitoring for this by-product of water disinfection. Users of the Multisensor THM monitor include Heyward Incorporated, which uses the system throughout southeast and mid-Atlantic United States to meet the regulatory and legal needs of its clients.

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£100 million mitigated losses from E-Nose early contamination warning.

By minimising chemical dosing in water treatment, each maintenance-free sensor reduces chemical consumption in a water treatment plant by 30% and cuts energy bills by over £300,000 each year.

The research team from the Instrumentation and Analytical Science group developed novel gas sensing arrays to detect, monitor and predict odour concentrations for a diverse range of industry sectors. The non-contact technology detects low concentrations of headspace vapours from a range of hazardous chemicals, including volatile organic compounds and cancer-causing trihalomethanes. The research team continues to develop new sensor technologies and instrumentation.