Scientific reports

A simple capacitive method to evaluate ethanol fuel samples.

PMID 28240312


Ethanol is a biofuel used worldwide. However, the presence of excessive water either during the distillation process or by fraudulent adulteration is a major concern in the use of ethanol fuel. High water levels may cause engine malfunction, in addition to being considered illegal. Here, we describe the development of a simple, fast and accurate platform based on nanostructured sensors to evaluate ethanol samples. The device fabrication is facile, based on standard microfabrication and thin-film deposition methods. The sensor operation relies on capacitance measurements employing a parallel plate capacitor containing a conformational aluminum oxide (Al2O3) thin layer (15 nm). The sensor operates over the full range water concentration, i.e., from approximately 0% to 100% vol. of water in ethanol, with water traces being detectable down to 0.5% vol. These characteristics make the proposed device unique with respect to other platforms. Finally, the good agreement between the sensor response and analyses performed by gas chromatography of ethanol biofuel endorses the accuracy of the proposed method. Due to the full operation range, the reported sensor has the technological potential for use as a point-of-care analytical tool at gas stations or in the chemical, pharmaceutical, and beverage industries, to mention a few.