Field evaluation of low-cost electrochemical air quality gas sensors under extreme temperature and relative humidity conditions

Roubina Papaconstantinou, Marios Demosthenous, Spyros Bezantakos, Neoclis Hadjigeorgiou, Marinos Costi, Melina Stylianou, Elli Symeou, Chrysanthos Savvides, George Biskos

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Modern electrochemical gas sensors hold great potential for improving practices in air quality (AQ) monitoring as their low cost, ease of operation and compact design can enable dense observational networks and mobile measurements. Despite that, however, numerous studies have shown that the performance of these sensors depends on a number of factors (e.g. environmental conditions, sensor quality, maintenance and calibration), thereby adding significant uncertainties in the reported measurements and large discrepancies from those recorded by reference-grade instruments. In this work we investigate the performance of electrochemical sensors, provided by two manufacturers (namely Alphasense and Winsen), for measuring the concentrations of CO, NO2, O3 and SO2. To achieve that we carried out collocated yearlong measurements with reference-grade instruments at a traffic AQ monitoring station in Nicosia, Cyprus, where temperatures ranged from ca. 0 ∘C in the winter to almost 45 ∘C in the summer. The CO sensors exhibit the best performance among all the ones we tested, having minimal mean relative error (MRE) compared to reference instruments (ca. −5 %), although a significant difference in their response was observed before and after the summer period. At the other end of the spectrum, the SO2 sensors reported concentration values that were at least 1 order of magnitude higher than the respective reference measurements (with MREs being more than 1000 % for Alphasense and almost 400 % for Winsen throughout the entire measurement period), which can be justified by the fact that the concentrations of SO2 at our measuring site were below their limit of detection. In general, variabilities in the environmental conditions (i.e. temperature and relative humidity) appear to significantly affect the performance of the sensors. When compared with reference instruments, the CO and NO2 electrochemical sensors provide measurements that exhibit increasing errors and decreasing correlations as temperature increases (from below 10 to above 30 ∘C) and RH decreases (from >75 % to below 30 %). Interestingly, the performance of the sensors was affected irreversibly during the hot summer period, exhibiting different responses before and after that, resulting in a signal deterioration that was more than twice that reported by the manufacturers. With the exception of the Alphasense NO2 sensor, all low-cost sensors (LCSs) exhibited measurement uncertainties that were much higher, even at the beginning of our measurement period, compared to those required for qualifying the sensors for indicative air quality measurements according to the respective European Commission (EC) Directive. Overall, our results show that the response of all LCSs is strongly affected by the environmental conditions, warranting further investigations on how they are manufactured, calibrated and employed in the field.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3313–3329
Number of pages17
JournalAtmospheric Measurement Techniques
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2023

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