This new sensor could save people from toxic farm fumes

16 Aug 2018

Farmer spreading slurry. Image: Belinda Sulllivan/Shutterstock

Gas Hound is a portable sensor that detects hydrogen sulphide to alert farmers to potential danger. TechWatch’s Emily McDaid finds out more.

Agricultural entrepreneur Mark Elliott is disturbed by the prevalence of deaths in Ireland from farming accidents.

“I thought, there must be a way for this to stop happening,” he said.

“I came across a few people affected by the fumes from slurry gas. Then, one of my customers died. It spurred me on to invent Gas Hound,” he explained.

‘Gas Hound works like a lighthouse; if it’s flashing, sounding or if it sends you a text, you know to stay away until the fumes subside’

Gas Hound isn’t complicated. It’s a portable sensor that detects hydrogen sulphide. Just one breath of this toxic chemical, found in slurry gas, can be deadly. Because this gas is odourless and invisible, our human fear-sensing mechanisms fail us.

“Gas Hound works like a lighthouse; if it’s flashing, sounding or if it sends you a text, you know to stay away until the fumes subside,” said Elliott.

He was keen to go one step further than the solutions widely available today, wearable sensors. And for very good reason.

“If you’re wearing it, and the sensor goes off, you’re already in the danger zone. You could already have taken a deadly breath of the fumes,” he pointed out.

Because farmers could mix slurry in various places on the farm, it was imperative that Gas Hound was portable and mobile-integrated.

middle-aged man wearing white check shirt looking at camera and smiling.

Mark Elliott. Image: TechWatch

Elliott said: “I applied for, and received, an innovation voucher from Invest Northern Ireland. We then took it to the Letterkenny Institute of Technology to work out the best prototype. After a second innovation voucher, I was able to get a working model.”

He said the “battery will last for three years”. His guide price for the product is £399. It includes a strobe light, texting service and alarm.

When asked about his biggest design challenge, Elliott talked about how sensitive the alarm needed to be. “Hydrogen sulphide is lethal only above a certain concentration. Figuring out the optimum level for it to go off at – that was hard. If it was set too low, it would go off all the time and just become background noise.”

Elliott said his selling strategy will focus on direct, online sales. “This is plug and play – switch it on, and off you go,” he said.

He is dedicated to manufacturing Gas Hound in Northern Ireland. “I aim to launch the product at Winter Fair, held every year around Christmastime, a large conference for the farming communities.”

Elliott’s background with agricultural equipment has given him an insight into the market for Gas Hound. “Most intensive farms in Europe rely on housing their animals through the winter, and the slurry is stored in containers. It has to be mixed before spreading, so this creates risk, and potential for the Gas Hound to be used. There are 89m cattle in the EU alone, and 147m pigs.”

By Emily McDaid, editor, TechWatch

A version of this article originally appeared on TechWatch

Gas Hound is a finalist in the annual Invent competition run by Connect at Catalyst Inc, aiming to showcase the best and brightest innovators that Northern Ireland has to offer. Invent 2018 will take place on Thursday 11 October in Belfast, where 12 finalists will battle it out for a £33,000 prize fund.

TechWatch by Catalyst covered tech developments in Northern Ireland