An interview with Dr. Ismo Kauppinen, co-founder and CEO of Gasera, discussing the main sources of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the atmosphere and the development of innovative technologies that can detect formaldehyde, a potent VOC known to cause cancer. Interview conducted by AZoM at Pittcon 2019.
Which gases contribute most to outdoor air pollution and global warming worldwide? What are the main sources of these gases?
The main sources of air pollution worldwide are vehicles, the energy production industry and the manufacturing industry. The most high-level pollutants are gases such as SO2, NO, NOx and SOx which are released during combustion. This includes both vehicles and natural sources such as SO2 from volcanoes.
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Whilst these gases are a major global concern, lately, there has been a lot of interest towards Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), which have been shown to have carcinogenic properties. The main source of these gases are the manufacturing and energy sectors, but they can also be released from carpets, building materials, furniture, chemicals used in households and cooking.
Manufacturers with a CE mark who produce plywood and other wood products are required to limit the amount of gases they release, however refineries are also a source of noxious gases, such as benzene and BTX components.
Many people are unaware of the impact of indoor pollution on health. What are the major indoor pollutants and what effects can these gases have on human health?
We spend more than 90% of our time indoors, which means indoor pollution is a big issue. Outdoor pollution enters houses, and combined with indoor pollutants, can create a microcosm of different gases. For this reason, indoor environments have been shown to be even 10 times more polluted than many outdoor spaces.
The main indoor pollutants are VOCs. As mentioned previously, these come from building materials, chemicals, and indoor activities such as cooking and smoking.
How can measurement instruments be used to reduce air pollution?
There are two main ways that measurements instruments can reduce air pollution. Firstly, these instruments are vital for identifying leaks and ensuring companies are compliant with EU regulations. Being able to detect such issues enables industry to respond quickly, before the damage is irrevocable.
To give you a real-world example, Gasera instruments are currently used in the production of wood panels to determine how much gas the wood is emitting and maintain formaldehyde emissions below CE limits.
Secondly, measurement instruments can be used to inform politicians when developing new environmental policies. In the past, such instruments have supported the wider adoption of renewable energy sources as well as the passage of laws that prohibit the release of toxic gases by the manufacturing industry.
It’s the availability of the measurement instrumentation that drives the legislation. There's no point in developing legislation which states that all companies must measure for example formaldehyde down to PPB levels if you don't have the instrumentation to do that. This is where we intervene, by developing new technologies and making them available to as many industries as we can.
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Formaldehyde is a potent Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) that can be found at low levels both indoors and outdoors. Why is it important to be able to detect formaldehyde and other VOCs in the atmosphere?
It is important to be able to detect formaldehyde as it has potent effects on human health. After formaldehyde was reclassified to carcinogenic category 1B in 2014, we prioritized the development of new technologies. Unfortunately, we know that formaldehyde pollution is widespread as it is released by all building materials.
Wood factories, in particular, use urea formaldehyde as a glue, which releases formaldehyde into the atmosphere. Biofuels are also a source of formaldehyde, which is something that many people do not realize. These fuels have been marketed as environmentally friendly, and yet they release a toxic gas that can have harmful effects. That said, using diesel as a fuel releases gases such as CO, NOx and unburned hydrocarbons into the environment.
What are the major barriers to environmental VOC detection and analysis at present?
As VOCs are toxic at low levels, many technologies just aren’t sensitive enough to detect them. That is the major barrier to analysis at present. Even when companies have developed technologies that are sensitive, a lack of selectivity has led to difficulties in analysis. Many VOCs have similar spectral features, so it is almost impossible to identify specific compounds using current technologies.
The final barrier is cost. Currently, formaldehyde is measured by taking samples and bringing them to a laboratory for analysis with expensive equipment. We're trying to tackle all of these issues.
How are Gasera working to overcome these issues?
We recently launched the GASERA ONE platform, which is based on our proprietary photoacoustic infrared spectrometer and the sensor that we have presented here at Pittcon. It also employs a quantum cascade laser, which is one of our latest developments.
The GASERA ONE can be configured for different applications using a variety of light sources. It can be used to measure formaldehyde levels or take benzene measurements, for example.
The technology was the life work of my father, a molecular spectroscopy professor who used equipment that filled an entire room. It was his vision to miniaturize the equipment for industrial applications.
At Pittcon 2019, Gasera launched the new Multipoint Sampler. How do you think this product will benefit worldwide environmental clean-up efforts?
The Multipoint Sampler enables process managers to sample several locations using the same instrument. One of our customers runs a factory, and some of the chemicals used in the manufacturing process can release formaldehyde. They wanted to monitor for the release of formaldehyde across the factory, so found the Multipoint Sampler very useful. If an area starts recording high levels of formaldehyde, they can address this quickly.
What’s next for the company?
In the short term, we are looking to expand our product range. The next thing probably will be a benzene analyzer and further variants for the GASERA ONE platform. In the long run, our scientists are focused on pursuing my father's dream to miniaturize the technology and make it accessible to all.
Our goal is to make an on-chip detector that is the size of a SIM card and can be integrated into mobile phones or smart watches, for example. This would enable consumers to monitor pollution in their everyday lives.
Where can readers find more information?
Learn more about Gasera ONE
Learn more about the Multipoint Sampler
About Dr. Ismo Kauppinen
Dr. Ismo Kauppinen is the co-founder and CEO of Gasera, an innovative company dedicated to reducing global air pollution through the production of high-end gas analysis technology.
Ismo received his PhD in physics for the study of audio signal restoration techniques. He sold his first technology license in 2002 to a Danish global player, TC Electronic A/S, in the field of pro-audio. This was a patented technology for audio restoration, which resulted directly from his PhD work. Following this, Ismo made several other patents in the pro-audio field.
In his role at Gasera, Ismo is continuing the lifework of his father, Professor Dr. Jyrki Kauppinen, whom he co-founded the company with. Professor Dr. Jyrki Kauppinen’s goal was to make affordable, accessible part per trillion (ppt) level detection systems, and Ismo is focused on turning this dream into reality, through the commercialization of research results and deep technologies.
About Gasera Ltd.
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