A small, lightweight, portable apparatus based on an electrochemical sensing principle has been developed for monitoring low concentrations of ethylene in air. Ethylene has long been known to be produced by plants and to stimulate the growth and other aspects of the development of plants (including, notably, ripening of fruits and vegetables), even at concentrations as low as tens of parts per billion (ppb). The effects are magnified in plant-growth and -storage chambers wherein ethylene can accumulate. There is increasing recognition in agriculture and related industries that it is desirable to monitor and control ethylene concentrations in order to optimize the growth, storage, and ripening of plant products. Hence, there are numerous potential uses for the present apparatus in conjunction with equipment for controlling ethylene concentrations.

The Sensor Chip and Solid-Electrolyte Membrane are packaged together in a housing that contains airflow channels and a reservoir for water to keep the membrane wet. In the illustrated design, (A) the sensor chip is shown in its holder with its three electrical lead pins and (B) the upper portion of the sensor housing is shown with the water reservoir and slots to hydrate Nafion (or equivalent) membrane, which is placed over the sensor chip. The assembled sensor ready for installation in the ethylene monitor is shown in (C). It measures 4 by 4 by 2.2 cm.

The ethylene sensor is of a thick-film type with a design optimized for a low detection limit. The sensor includes a noble metal sensing electrode on a chip and a hydrated solid-electrolyte membrane that is held in contact with the chip. Also located on the sensor chip are a counter electrode and a reference electrode. The sensing electrode is held at a fixed potential versus the reference electrode. Detection takes place at active-triple-point areas where the sensing electrode, electrolyte, and sample gas meet. These areas are formed by cutting openings in the electrolyte membrane. The electrode current generated from electrochemical oxidation of ethylene at the active triple points is proportional to the concentration of ethylene. An additional film of the solid-electrolyte membrane material is deposited on the sensing electrode to increase the effective triple-point areas and thereby enhance the detection signal.