Engineering: Fully Funded M2A EngD Scholarship: Next generation platinum hybrid sensors for the agri-food and automotive industries: a solution to maximise output and sustainability
Start date: October 2022
Expected interview date: March/April 2022
Academic supervisors: Dr Paolo Bertoncello, Zari Tehrani and Professor Owen Guy
Sponsoring company: Zimmer & Peacock AS
The UK agri-food industry is worth around £108 billion to the national economy and provides over 3.7 million jobs. The agri-food sector as a whole generates around £18 billion of gross export earnings for the UK each year. The sector is keen to respond to policy issues relating to the environment, energy consumption, health, food safety, wastage, and wellness as well as to consumer choice.
Smart or precision agriculture is defined as a new way of sustainable agriculture that allows farmers to maximise crop yields using minimal resources (water, fertilizers, seeds etc) and reduce waste. In agriculture, soil macro and micronutrients, pH level, soil water potential, pesticides, pathogens are critical parameters to assess the quality of soils. Quantifying nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium macronutrients in agriculture farming soils can be used to respond to measurements by optimise yields from high-quality plant growth, whilst at the same time helping to minimise excessive use of nitrogen fertilizers – responsible for environmental pollution (from N leaching, denitrification, and volatilization that generates ammonia and nitrous oxides).
The gas sensor market in 2019 was valued at $2.19 billion globally and is anticipated to show tremendous growth in the next decade (CGAR growth of 6.4% from 2019 to 2024). Increased demand for gas sensors from end-users (automotive, environmental, health, agriculture) can be attributed to increased awareness around emissions, promise for environmentally responsible action, increase health and safety regulations, and increased provisions for food safety. Current gas capability sensors are based on metal oxide capacitors and utilize state-of-the-art printing techniques. With regards to limitations, the obstacle in current gas sensing technology is in their selectivity between different gases. Developments are geared towards detecting trace amounts of gas analytes with higher selectivity.
Metal-Organic Frameworks (MOFs) are materials that have variable porosities and subsequently can detect different types of gases, such as CO2, CO, NOx, selectively and efficiently. Application smart coatings based on MOFs in hybrid sensor devices enable selectivity to be built into the hybrid sensor. The incorporation of MO coatings as part of the active material is highly innovative and can ultimately improve the sensing ability of the gas sensor devices.
Both the Agri-food and gas sensor markets are new avenues for Zimmer and Peacock and ZP are keen to exploit the opportunities. Through the EngD project, we will develop a novel platform hybrid sensors which will allow us to exploit new market areas – in the Agri-Food and automotive industry.
The automotive industry is one of the largest economic sectors by revenue, with some 70.5 % million cars being produced worldwide  and the British market alone having an £82 billion turnover in 2018 . This presents a great financial opportunity that we are keen to exploit. The sensors could be manufacturers for end-users such as Jaguar Land Rover and Aston Martin. Our sensors could have applications in their higher-end model cars, around 150,000  of which were sold in 2018. Automotive sensor applications include tracking the concentrations of gasses such as CO2 for monitoring of in-cabin air quality, for the detection of possible leaks in the coolant of air conditioning systems, and for maintaining cabin freshness (which affects driver alertness). Our sensors would offer superior sensing abilities and integrated multi-sensor platform technology, attractive properties to incentives companies such as Land Rover to invest into our sensors over their existing single sensor technology.
This project will develop functional coatings for a range of Smart Electrochemical sensors with industry partner Zimmer & Peacock, that can be employed both in farming/agriculture and automotive applications to detect specific analytes and gases. The novel sensor system will combine hybrid coated Screen Printed Electrode sensing technologies in a multiplex sensor array. It will also develop an in situ sample collection, sensing and data transfer system:
- Develop hybrid smart sensor devices that combine functional coatings with semiconductor and printed devices in a highly innovative approach and offers huge potential benefits in terms of sensitivity, selectivity, miniaturisation, and high-volume low-cost manufacturing.
- Develop functional coatings for a range of Smart Electrochemical sensors with industry partner Zimmer and Peacock, that can be employed both in Agri-Food, Environmental and Automotive applications.
- Sensors will be developed for analytes including phosphorous, potassium, Calcium, Sodium, Nitrogen, Copper, Iron, methane, and nitric oxides.
- Develop working sensors.
- Develop new product ranges for Agri-food and Gas sensing markets.
- Develop software App to accompany sensing hardware.