Measuring air quality, as anyone who has tried to tackle this problem can attest, is not as straightforward as it might seem. Even once the nebulous term “quality” is defined, most sensors use something as a proxy for overall air health. One common method is to use volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as this proxy but as [Larry Bank] found out, using these inside a home with a functional kitchen leads to a lot of inaccurate readings. In the search for a more reliable sensor, he built this project which uses CO2 to help gauge air quality.
Most of the reason that CO2 sensors aren’t used as air quality sensors is cost. They are much more expensive than VOC sensors, but [Larry] recently found one that was more affordable and decided to build this project around it. The prototype used an Arduino communicating over I2C to the sensor and an OLED screen, which he eventually put in a 3D printed case to carry around to sample CO2 concentration in various real-world locations. The final project uses a clever way of interfacing with the e-paper display that we featured earlier.
While CO2 concentration doesn’t tell the full story of air quality in a specific place, it does play a major role. [Larry] found concentrations as high as 3000 ppm in his home, which can cause a drop in cognitive function. He’s made some lifestyle changes as a result which he reports has had a beneficial impact. For human-occupied indoor spaces, CO2 can easily be the main contributor to poor air quality, and we’ve seen at least one other project to address this concern directly.
What happens when an air filter for 3D printers gets designed by engineers with a passion for function, a refusal to compromise, and a desire to do without bad smells or fumes? You get the Nevermore, a design for a recirculating active-carbon filtration system to deal with VOCs (volatile organic compounds) from 3D printing.
The Nevermore Micro (and larger Nevermore Max) were originally intended to complement the Voron 3D printer design, but are made such that they can be used with just about anything else. These filters use 3D-printable parts, and are designed to be easily filled (and refilled) using bulk-activated carbon instead of some kind of proprietary pre-packed filter like most commercial offerings. The Voron project is all about a printer without compromises, and the Nevermore comes from that same design ethos.
A Nevermore filter sits inside the build chamber, and works by recirculating air inside while passing it through the activated carbon. The idea is that by concentrating on dealing with the problem at the source inside a relatively small build chamber, one doesn’t need a lot of airflow. A small recirculating air filter can do the job efficiently, though for best results, the build chamber should be as sealed as possible.
One interesting caution is that it seems not all activated carbon is the same, and it is absolutely crucial to use only acid-free, steam-activated (not acid-washed) carbon in a recirculating filter like the Nevermore. There are horrifying photos of oxidized metal surfaces resulting from using acid-residue carbon, some of which took only minutes to occur. Thankfully, there are pointers to trusted sources for the known-good stuff.
It’s known that 3D printing results in chemical and particle emissions. These differ significantly depending on both material and type of printer, but it’s enough of an issue to warrant attention. One deals with particulates with something like a HEPA filter, but VOCs require a carbon filter. This is where the Nevermore comes in. Active carbon filters will wear out simply from exposure to the air, so if one is serious about cleaning VOCs when printing, it is definitely worth looking into bulk carbon with a design like the Nevermore.
While we don’t yet know the long-term effects of hanging out around 3D printers, it doesn’t take a in-depth study to figure out that their emissions aren’t healthy. What smells toxic usually is toxic. Still, it’s oh-so-fun to linger and watch prints grow into existence, even when we have hundreds or thousands of hours of printing under our belts.
Most of us would agree that ABS stinks worse than PLA, and that’s probably because it releases formaldehyde when melted. PLA could be viewed as slightly less harmful because it has a lower melting point, and more volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are released at higher temperatures. Though we should probably always open a window when printing, human nature is a strong force. We need something to save us from our stubbornness, and [Gary Peng] has the answer: a smart 3D printer emission monitor.
The monitor continually checks the air quality and collects data about VOC emissions. As the VOCs become elevated during printing, the user is notified with visual, audio, and phone notifications. Green means you’re good, yellow means open a window, red means GTFO. There’s a brief demo after the break that also shows the phone interface.
The heart of this monitor is a CCS811 gas sensor, which provides VOC data to a Particle Photon. [Gary] built a simple Blynk interface to handle the alerts and graph historical VOC readings. He’s got the code and STLs available, so let this be the last time you watch something print in blissful semi-ignorance.
The ESP8266 and its heavyweight sibling the ESP32 are fantastic boards to develop with as they allow you to quickly and easily get a project online. Just tack a few sensors and some LEDs on them, and you’re well on the way to producing your own “Internet of Things”. The real challenge is utilizing the incredible capabilities these boards offer us to do something meaningful.
[Samuel] is using the CCS811 sensor which can pick up potentially harmful Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and determine carbon dioxide concentrations, as well as a BMP280 sensor to read ambient temperature and atmospheric pressure. There’s also an SD card reader for local data storage, a 1602 LCD display that provides a basic user interface, and the electronics required to support the 18650 Li-Ion batteries which power the unit for up to 12 hours on a charge. Everything’s held in a professional looking enclosure that we’ll be sure to add to our next AliExpress order.
Collecting data is one thing, but what do you do with it once you’ve got it? To that end, each node runs a web interface that not only allows you to view current hardware status and download the locally stored data, but also provides an easy to understand visual representation of the environmental conditions. To get around the limited storage space for web assets on the chip, [Samuel] is calling out to Chart.js to inject some slick graphics into the web interface on-demand. The web interface is a particularly nice touch, and an excellent use of the power and capabilities offered by the ESP32.
Has the food in your pantry turned? Sometimes it’s the sickening smell of rot that tells you there’s something amiss. But is there a way to catch this before it makes life unpleasant? If only there were machines that could smell spoiled food before it stinks up the whole place.
In early May, I was lucky enough to attend the fourth FabLab Asia Network Conference (Fan4). The theme of their event this year was ‘Co-Create a Better World’. One of the major features of the conference was that there were a number of projects featured, often from rural areas, that were requesting assistance throughout the course of the conference.
Overall there were many bright people tackling difficult problems with limited resources. This is how I met [Yogesh Kulkarni] who runs a FabLab in Pabal, a farming community not far from Pune, India. [Yogesh] has also appeared on TED Talks (video here). He explained to me that in his area, vendors sell milk-based desserts. These are not exactly refrigerated, and sometimes people become ill from eating them. It would be nice if there was a way for the vendors to avoid selling the occasional harmful product.
I’ve had similar concerns with food safety in my area (Vietnam), and while it has been fine nearly all of the time, a few years ago I nearly died from a preventable food-borne illness. I had sufficient motivation to do a little research.
To those of us in the corporate world, the conference room is where hope goes to die. Crammed into a space too small for the number of invitees, the room soon glows with radiated body heat and the aromas of humans as the time from their last shower gradually increases. To say it’s not a recipe for productivity is an understatement at best.
Having suffered through too many of these soporific situations, [Charles Ouweland] took matters into his own hands and built this portable air quality meter for meetings. With an OLED display on top and sensors inside, it displays not only the temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure, but also the CO₂ concentration and the levels of volatile organic compounds (VOC), noxious substances sometimes off-gassed from building materials, furniture upholstery, and coworkers alike.
The monitor quantifies his meeting misery, which we’re sure wins him points with his colleagues. For our part, though, what we find interesting is his design process. He started where many of us would, with an Arduino Uno. The sensor modules, a CCS811 for VOC and CO₂ as well as a BME280 for temperature, humidity, and pressure, both needed 3.3 volts, so he added a regulator to knock the Arduino’s 5-volt supply into range and some MOSFETs for level matching. Things were getting bulky, though, so he set about reducing the component count. The Uno went by stripping out its already programmed MCU. That killed the need for the regulator and MOSFETs, since everything would be happy with 3.3 volts. A few more rounds of optimization led to the final product, compact enough to run on a pair of AA batteries.
This is a great lesson in going from prototype to product. And it’s so compact, it could even ride on top of a Roomba to map the conference room’s floor-level air quality.
Air quality is becoming a major issue these days, and not just for cities like Beijing and Los Angeles. It’s important for health, our environment, and our economy no matter where we live. To that end, [Radu] has been working on air quality monitors that will be widely deployed in order to give a high-resolution air quality picture, and he’s starting in his home city of Timisoara, Romania.
[Radu] built a similar device to measure background radiation (a 2014 Hackaday Prize Semifinalist), and another to measure air quality in several ways (a 2015 Hackaday Prize Finalist and a Best Product Finalist; winners will be announced next weekend). He is using the platforms as models for his new meter. The device will use a VOC air sensor and an optical dust sensor in a mobile unit connected to a car to gather data, and from that a heat map of air quality will be generated. There are also sensors for temperature, pressure, humidity, and background radiation. The backbone of the project is a smart phone which will upload the data to a server.
We’ve seen other air quality meters before as well, and even ones based around the Raspberry Pi, but this one has a much broader range of data that it is acquiring. Its ability to be implemented as an array of sensors to gather data for an entire city is impressive as well. We can envision sensor networks installed on public transportation but to get to all parts of every neighborhood it would be interesting to team up with the Google Streetview Cars, Uber, or UPS.