An ‘intelligent’ air compressor pump can improve the effectiveness of gas detectors, according to scientists in the US.

Existing portable gas sensors use a two-stage process to identify chemicals in air samples, with applications everywhere from mineshafts to hospital wards.

First the sample is passed through a tube, which different gases travel through at different speeds, separating the elements and compounds slightly.

Next a second, polarised tube separates out the charged particles, allowing chemicals within the gas to be identified.

However, by adding an extra compressor component to the set-up, researchers at the University of Michigan have improved the process further.

They say the key is to trigger the air compressor pump only when a complete cloud of gas passes through the sensor – and not during gaps or overlaps between different types of chemical.

“It can save a lot of power, so our system can be used in remote areas,” says professor of biomedical engineering Xudong ‘Sherman’ Fan.

The total energy consumed is cut by a factor of between ten and 100, and the separation of different chemical clouds makes data analysis easier too, the scientists say.