HENRIETTA, NY. (WROC) — One group of scientists is making an easy way for people to measure greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide in the atmosphere. While there are plenty of ways to already do this, their goal is to make a cheap and quick tool that everyone can use.  

Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that is changing the atmosphere and the main driver of climate change. While the gas is only found in trace amounts, increases from the burning of fossil fuels are having dramatic impacts on the climate.  

The level is often measured with an infrared spectrometer. That costs thousands of dollars. This team is working on making a sensor that could be extremely inexpensive and accessible through a 3D printer. 

RIT’s Reeba Thomas is a materials science graduate student and is working on the project. She says a small silicon plastic coated with a material can measure greenhouse gases in real-time. The material reacts to carbon dioxide and that changes the resistance. The resistance is calculated and that can be translated to how much carbon dioxide is present. Also, the desorption rate can be calculated based on the ambient temperature. 

The sensitivity of the sensor is based on how resistance changes due to temperature. That allows for calibration. “People believe numbers more than just explaining what actually happens,” said Thomas, “so we’re trying to give them the data.” 

This technology could be used at home to measure the amount of emissions based on location. Closer to pollution sources could reveal dangerous levels of greenhouse gases. 

Kalathur Samthanam is the RIT chemistry professor that is leading the project. “We should get the value of carbon dioxide and project it to the people,” said Samthanam. 

A large part of the lab has new equipment that allows for these scientists to explore how these materials work and potentially make them commercially available. “These are all easy to make, and also not expensive, and that’s the goal,” said Samthanam. 

Carbon dioxide is commonly measured with satellites. This way could help easily measure pollution from a point source, like an exhaust or power plant. The work is being presented at the Materials Research Society Meeting on April 15.