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Market profile: electronic noses.

For a while, gas chromatography and mass spectrometry (GC/MS) proved the most reliable technique for separating various components of a scent. In the early 1990s, though, a less expensive alternative to GC/MS analysis emerged, making everyday use more feasible. The electronic nose, or e-nose, consists of a group of sensors, which, when paired with special algorithms, can identify chemical signatures. E-noses typically use either metal-oxide (MOS), conducting polymer or quartz crystal sensors to measure changes in electrical potential. Each material has advantages over the others, but the analysis process remains the same.

Although diagnostics is a promising area for the technology, the bulk of e-nose testing today is done for quality control, primarily in the agriculture, food and manufacturing industries. For example, e-noses are used to check the freshness of milk, to determine whether coffee beans have been properly roasted and to ensure that the scent of perfumes and cosmetics is consistent among batches.

But because smell is such a basic quantitative and qualitative indicator, many other industries are exploring the usefulness e-noses as well. Last October, for instance, AppliedSensor and Texas Instruments (TI) signed a development and supply agreement for TI's Air Classification Module, an automobile air monitoring and filtering system in development. Using AppliedSensor's MOS and microelectromechanical research, the Module will detect and reduce unpleasant and toxic chemicals in cars.

Perhaps one of the fastest-growing areas for e-noses, though, is in security and defense. The ability to distinguish chemicals quickly and accurately makes the analyzers attractive to law enforcement. In January, Cyrano Sciences--which was acquired by Smiths Detection this month (see IBO 3/15/04)--announced with CombiMatrix that the two companies would work together to develop nanotechnology-based sensors that could detect air- and waterborne chemical agents (see IBO 3/15/04). Earlier in March, Syft Technologies--a New Zealand company that focuses on selected ion flow tube mass spectrometry--said the US government had expressed interest in its "supernose," a technology that can detect volatile organic compounds (VOCs) down to the low-parts-per-billion level.

France-based Alpha MOS, which was the first company to roll out a commercial e-nose, is the largest vendor of the instruments; Gerstel, Cyrano Scienses, AppliedSensor and Osmetech also have a significant stake in the market. Over one-third of the e-nose market consists of companies that hold only a small share.

The market for bench-top e-nose systems has traditionally outpaced the sales of portable analyzers, although in recent years this gap has narrowed considerably. While stationary e-nose sensors often produce more sensitive analyses, they lack some of the conveniences offered by portable models. As a result, IBO anticipates portable system sales will grow at an annual rate of more than 15%, handily outpacing bench-top sales. Overall, demand for chemical sensors this year is estimated to be over $20 million.

Electronic Noses At a Glance:

Leading Suppliers

* Alpha MOS

* Cyrano Sciences

* Gerstel

Largest Markets

* Agriculture and Food

* Environmental Testing

* Manufacturing

* Perfumes/Cosmetics

Instrument Cost

* $8,000 to $25,000
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Publication:Instrument Business Outlook
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 31, 2004
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