Editorial Feature

Using Sensors in Elemental Analysis

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Elemental analysis is the method of analyzing a sample to examine its composition. Elemental analysis can also be used to find a sample’s isotopic structure. However, it is mostly used to detect the qualitative and quantitative elemental structure.

While the most common form of elemental analysis is CHNS analysis, which falls within the branch of analytical chemistry, modern techniques include the use of sensors for a more comprehensive analysis.

CHNS, known as a combustion analysis, involves burning a sample within an oxygen-rich container. The residue and products of the combustion are collected and can then be analyzed. It should be noted, that only carbon dioxide, water, and nitric oxide can be detected using this method of elemental analysis, and it is also destructive. Therefore, the use of sensors can provide the elemental composition of samples without destroying the sample itself, and can provide more useful data.

The most notable example of the use of elemental analysis is in the water industry. It is evident that a fully comprehensive review of drinking water is vital, and elemental analysis can be used to safeguard the public against any health and safety incidents. However, elemental analysis on water is also used in the irrigation of crops.

Currently, industrial effluent is being used to maintain crops. Monitoring the pollution level of water can limit the hazard of excess toxins in the food supply. In 2018, one research team proposed the use of a Fiber Bragg Grating sensor in the wastewater of sugar factories. This sensor provides readings of the most critical elements: chloride, and lead. Both of these have detrimental health risks associated with them.

The sensor works by monitoring the change in Bragg wavelength, as it is associated with the change in the ambient refractive index. The data collected can then be compared to a known concentration of solutions, and therefore the amount of the unwanted elements can be quantified. According to the study, the sensor can accurately work within the limits of APHA techniques; while ensuring cost efficiency and public safety.

Another example of sensors used for elemental analysis is the Total Organic Carbon analyzer, which can be used to find the carbon and nitrogen content in all fluids and sludge. While the basis of this elemental analysis applies the combustion method to convert the organic carbon into carbon dioxide, the analyzer uses a non-dispersive infrared sensor to detect the CO2 created by oxidation, thereby giving an accurate reading over a broad range of intensities.

The variety of sensors which can be used for elemental analysis is as numerous as the range of applications it can be used for. Sensors can be used to collect data on the smallest of elements in a relatively short amount of time. The addition of sensors to an almost 200-year-old scientific method has made the process more accurate and therefore more relative to modern applications.

Sources and Further Reading

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