Oxygen Analyzer

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Today’s oxygen analyzers use one of a several types of oxygen sensors. As industrial process applications call for improved measurement accuracy and repeatability, users are also demanding analyzers that require a minimum of maintenance and calibration. To this end, users of oxygen analyzers are encouraged to evaluate the merits of a particular oxygen sensor type in context to the application for which it is intended. There is no one universal oxygen sensor type.

The synoptic review of the various gas phase oxygen sensors provided below should be used in conjunction with information gathered from manufacturers of oxygen analyzers. This combination will help to ensure the selection of the right sensor type for the application under consideration.

Ambient Temperature Electrochemical Oxygen Sensors
The ambient temperature electrochemical sensor, often referred to as a galvanic sensor, is typically a small, partially sealed, cylindrical device (1-1/4” diameter by 0.75” height) that contains two dissimilar electrodes immersed in an aqueous electrolyte, commonly potassium hydroxide. As oxygen molecules diffuse through a semi-permeable membrane installed on one side of the sensor, the oxygen molecules are reduced at the cathode to form a positively charge hydroxyl ion. The hydroxyl ion migrates to the sensor anode where an oxidation reaction takes place. The resultant reduction/oxidation reaction generates an electrical current proportional to the oxygen concentration in the sample gas. The current generated is both measured and conditioned with external electronics and displayed on a digital panel meter either in percent or parts per million concentrations. With the advance in mechanical designs, refinements in electrode materials, and enhanced electrolyte formulations, the galvanic oxygen sensor provides extended life over earlier versions, and are recognized for their accuracy in both the percent and traces oxygen ranges. Response times have also been improved. A major limitation of ambient temperature electrochemical sensors is their susceptibility to damage when used with samples containing acid gas species such as hydrogen sulfide, hydrogen chloride, sulfur dioxide, etc. Unless the offending gas constituent is scrubbed prior to analysis, their presence will greatly shorten the life of the sensor. The galvanic sensor is also susceptible to over pressurization. For applications where the sample pressure is > 5 psig, a pressure regulator or control valve is normally recommended.

Paramagnetic Oxygen Sensors
Within this category, the magnetodynamic or `dumbbell' type of design is the predominate sensor type. Oxygen has a relatively high magnetic susceptibility as compared to other gases such as nitrogen, helium, argon, etc. and displays a paramagnetic behavior. The paramagnetic oxygen sensor consists of a cylindrical shaped container inside of which is placed a small glass dumbbell. The dumbbell is filled with an inert gas such as nitrogen and suspended on a taut platinum wire within a non-uniform magnetic field. The dumbbell is designed to move freely as it is suspended from the wire. When a sample gas containing oxygen is processed through the sensor, the oxygen molecules are attracted to the stronger of the two magnetic fields. This causes a displacement of the dumbbell which results in the dumbbell rotating. A precision optical system consisting of a light source, photodiode, and amplifier circuit is used to measure the degree of rotation of the dumbbell. In some paramagnetic oxygen sensor designs, an opposing current is applied to restore the dumbbell to its normal position. The current required to maintain the dumbbell in it normal state is directly proportional to the partial pressure of oxygen and is represented electronically in percent oxygen. There are design variations associated with the various manufacturers of magnetodynamic paramagnetic oxygen sensors. Also, other types of sensors have been developed that use the susceptibility of oxygen to a magnetic field which include the thermomagnetic or `magnetic wind' type and the magnetopneumatic sensor. In general, paramagnetic oxygen sensors offer very good response time characteristics and use no consumable parts, making sensor life, under normal conditions, quite good. It also offers excellent precision over a range of 1% to 100% oxygen. The magnetodynamic sensor is quite delicate and is sensitive to vibration and/or position. Due to the loss in measurement sensitivity, in general, the paramagnetic oxygen sensor is not recommended for trace oxygen measurements. Other gases that exhibit a magnetic susceptibility can produce sizeable measurement errors. Manufactures of paramagnetic oxygen sensors and analyzers should provide details on these interfering gases.
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