In 2008, the Freedonia Group evaluated the chemical sensors market and predicted that US demand would top $5 billion in 2012. A more recent study from BCC Research predicts that the global sensor and biosensor market is expected to be worth $13 billion in 2011 and $21 billion in 2016. In other words, chemical sensors are a growing market. And why shouldn't they be?
Think of the explosion of chemical sensors for medical applications, both for consumers and for use in healthcare settings. Manufacturing and process industries have used chemical sensors for a very long time, although now they have access to a greater range of sensing technologies to detect a larger selection of chemical compounds. Further, those sensors are more selective, more robust, and (in some cases) don't need to undergo regular recalibration, thus offering a reduced maintenance burden.
You can find chemical sensors in vehicles; in our houses and commercial buildings; on farms, in lakes, up trees, down burrows, and everywhere in between for environmental monitoring; in mines to detect dangerous levels of methane before explosions can occur; and in the hands of first responders where they help to quickly identify potentially hazardous materials at an accident site. And that's just the chemical sensors that use established, mature chemical sensing technologies.
It seems as if every month there's another news item about some novel sensor being developed that can detect explosives or specific biological markers or hazardous chemicals. (This month's favorites are NIST's new trace gas detector, MIT's crazy sensor that uses bee-venom-coated carbon nanotubes to detect trace amounts of explosives, and the artificial nose developed at the University of Illinois that can diagnose bacterial infections within hours). Amazing and mind-boggling and cool, aren't they? So what kinds of applications open up if you have access to cheap, small, low-power and yet sensitive and robust chemical sensors? What can you learn if adding chemical sensors to an environment—any environment—won't break the bank? I have no idea what the answer to that question is, but I cannot wait to find out.