‘Electronic nose’, a sensor-based portable device which can help sniff out a variety of hazardous gases at pulp and paper mills, has been developed for environmental monitoring as well as to protect the health of thousands of workers in this industry.

According to a Ministry of Science and Technology statement, this has been the first attempt in India to develop such a product using odour sensors that make use of intelligent software to identify odorous molecules.

It is also possible to train the software by feeding information based on observation of experts, it added.

Nagpur-based National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) of Department of Electronics and Information Technology have jointly developed the ‘electronic nose’ for environmental monitoring that can help sniff out a variety of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and odorants at a pulp and paper mill industry with the prime objective to protect the health of thousands of workers working in this industry, the release said.

This portable device measures odour concentration and odour intensity, the statement said, adding that pulp and paper industry emits a variety of gases, namely hydrogen sulphide, methyl mercaptan, dimethyl sulphide, and dimethyl disulphide, all of which beyond a certain concentration may adversely affect the environment and human health.

This newly-developed electronic nose helps in continuous monitoring of these gases, overcoming all limitations of the available analytical instruments that are not only expensive but time-consuming, it said.

The electronic nose can easily be operated at a pulp and paper mill industry and is currently functioning successfully at the Mysore Paper Mills Limited, Bhadravathi in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu Paper Mill, the statement added.

Besides, it also establishes a correlation between sensory and analytical measurements for the sulphurous odorants generated from pulp and paper industries, tanneries and distilleries.

The statement also said that the electronic nose uses an array of sensors that function on the principle similar to that of human olfaction.

The sensor array generates a pattern-based on the type of aroma. The patterns obtained are trained to help interpret and distinguish amongst various odors and odorants as well as to recognise new patterns using advanced mathematical techniques, such as pattern recognition algorithms, principal component analysis, discriminant function analysis, cluster analysis, and artificial neural networks, it said.

The researchers are currently working on the application of electronic nose to monitor gas emissions from any source, be it an industry or leakage of petroleum pipes going through fields or farms, it added.