schoorstenen met rook, luchtvervuiling
schoorstenen met rook, luchtvervuiling

Grant of €700,000 to gain better understanding of nitrogen dioxide with GELSONDE

Nitrogen dioxide is a gas that has a high proportion of nitrogen precipitation and is hard to measure. But that could soon change: the Dutch Research Council (NWO) Open Technology Programme (OTP) has awarded €700,000 to the GELSONDE project, led by Paul Kouwer, from the Radboud University Institute for Molecules and Materials. Synthetic gel expert Kouwer and gas detection expert Simona Cristescu, also from Radboud University, are collaborating in this project with the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) and SensorSense, among others.

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a gas emitted by industry and traffic, is a major contributor to nitrogen deposition in the Netherlands, alongside ammonia, which is emitted mainly by the agricultural sector. Unfortunately, NO2 is not easy to measure, not on the ground, and certainly not high in the atmosphere. Although there are NOmeters, these meters also measure a variety of other gases, making the readings unreliable.

Portable lab

KNMI, which measures NO2, would like to take better, more precise measurements than they are able to do at present, says Kouwer. “For their measurements in the atmosphere, they use weather balloons, but the sensors often break down in the process. NOis quite easy to measure in a lab situation, so what you actually want is some kind of portable lab setup, which can be placed in one of these weather balloons.”

This will soon be possible, thanks to the NWO-OTP grant. The GELSONDE project brings together a team of materials chemists and sensor specialists who are joining forces to create a new, low-cost, and portable sensor. Kouwer: “In my lab, we are developing the materials and molecules that will make NOvisible. Think of a fluorescent signalling material in a gel. We are working with Simona Cristescu's group, who are experts in measuring those signals. Our other partners are helping us to build a prototype that we will test in a KNMI weather balloon. Our objective is to be able to deploy our new sensor widely, in business parks, at events, and high in the atmosphere, so that we can accurately measure NOconcentrations anywhere.”

Practical prototype

The grant makes it possible to fund a PhD candidate for Kouwer's lab and a postdoc for Cristescu's lab. The NO2-signaling gel should be as sensitive and as stable as possible. The process of reading the fluorescent signal from the gel will also be refined further. Kouwer: “Together with our partners, we will use the next four years to create a prototype that is usable in practice, stable, convenient, and affordable. In the process, we will obviously also keep in mind that a similar device could be used to measure other gases than NO2.”

The GELSONDE project partners are:

Photo: chris robert via Unsplash

Contact information

For more information, please contact Paul Kouwer or Team science communication via 024 361 6000 or media [at] (media[at]ru[dot]nl). 

Would you like to collaborate with Radboud University? Please contact Isabel Rijk, knowledge transfer officer. 

Sustainability, Innovation, Molecules and materials