MICROMOLE project – miniature autonomous chemical detector for operation in sewage water


The production and consumption of synthetic drugs is increasing in the past years. Unfortunately both production and consumption of these substances prove to be a threat for the health of citizens in the European countries. For example, the abuse of amphetamine type stimulants can lead to both psychic and physical side-effects including mental disorders and death. Besides, the production of these drugs is often carried-out with inappropriate equipment that can become uncontrollable resulting in dangerous blasts. For these reasons the detection of clandestine laboratories that produce these drugs turns out to be a necessity in a context where their number increases.

Detecting chemical substances in water at the micro-mole level

One of the main tasks of the MICROMOLE project aims at producing a high-sensitivity and high-selectivity autonomous laboratory system for the detection of trace amounts of selected chemical substances in sewage water. These traces of pollutants shall indicate the production of synthetic drugs in the neighborhood. Such a system will also find applications in many other fields, e.g. water quality assessment.

Autonomous, small, sensitive, selective and low-power

The aim of the project is to reduce the size of a tabletop laboratory system down to an object that will fit in the hand, while being able to operate in wastewater without human intervention. The main element of the system is the chemical sensor, which is miniaturized using microfluidic technology. It implements high sensitivity and selectivity, while being robust against variations in the water properties due to a custom-designed sensitive electrode.

The Fraunhofer IIS develops an optimized control and read-out system in order to obtain the optimal sensor performance. First, the sensor requires a precise biasing scheme to maximize performance and reliability. Second, the output signal of the sensor needs to be amplified, filtered and digitized, after what the concentration in target molecule is calculated via digital signal processing.

Beside measurement performance, low-power optimization is the key requirement for autonomous sensor systems. Additionally, Fraunhofer IIS develops an optimized thermalelectric generator for the power supply of the sensor system.

More information on the MICROMOLE project