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Chinese CO Meter – The Sensor Cell

As the CO meter I bought on eBay didn’t register anything whatsoever, I decided I’d hack the sensor itself apart to make sure it wasn’t just an empty steel can. It turns out that it’s not just an empty can, but there are some reasons why the thing doesn’t work ๐Ÿ˜‰

Cell Disassembled
Cell Disassembled

The cell was crimped together under the yellow shrinkwrap, but that’s nothing my aviation snips couldn’t take care of. The photo above shows the components from inside.

End Cap
End Cap

The endcap is just a steel pressing, nothing special here.

Filter
Filter

Also pretty standard is the inlet filter over the tiny hole in the next plate, even though it’s a lot more porous that I’ve seen before in other sensors.

Working Electrode Components
Working Electrode Components

Next up is the working electrode assembly, this also forms the seal on the can when it’s crimped, along with insulating it from the counter electrode & external can. The small disc third from left is supposed to be the electrode, which in these cells should be loaded with Platinum. Considering where else they’ve skimped in this unit, I’ll be very surprised if it’s anything except graphite.

Counter Electrode
Counter Electrode

Next up is the counter electrode, which is identical to the first, working electrode. Again I doubt there’s any precious metals in here.

Backplate
Backplate

Another steel backplate finishes off the cell itself, and keeps most of the liquid out, just making sure everything stays moist.

Rear Can & Reservoir
Rear Can & Reservoir

Finally, the rear of the cell holds the reservoir of liquid electrolyte. This is supposed to be Sulphuric Acid, but yet again they’ve skimped on the cost, and it’s just WATER.

It’s now not surprising that it wouldn’t give me any readings, this cell never would have worked correctly, if at all, without the correct electrolyte. These cheap alarms are dangerous, as people will trust it to alert them to high CO levels, when in fact it’s nothing more than a fancy flashing LED with an LCD display.

Ironically enough, when I connected a real electrochemical CO detector cell to the circuit from the alarm, it started working, detecting CO given off from a burning Butane lighter. It wouldn’t be calibrated, but it proves everything electronic is there & operational. It’s not surprising that the corner cut in this instance is on the sensor cell, as they contain precious metals & require careful manufacturing it’s where the cost lies with these alarms.

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Monox Compact-S CO Sensor Cell

Top
Top

Here is an old electrochemical type carbon monoxide detector cell, from Monox. Hole in the centre is the inlet for the gas under test.
DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME! Electrochemical cells contain a substantial amount of sulphuric acid, strong enough to cause burns.

This is a type ofย fuel cell that instead of being designed to produce power, is designed to produce a current that is precisely related to the amount of the target gas (in this case carbon monoxide) in the atmosphere. Measurement of the current gives a measure of the concentration of carbon monoxide in the atmosphere. Essentially the electrochemical cell consists of a container, 2 electrodes, connection wires and an electrolyte – typically sulfuric acid. Carbon monoxide is oxidized at one electrode to carbon dioxide while oxygen is consumed at the other electrode. For carbon monoxide detection, the electrochemical cell has advantages over other technologies in that it has a highly accurate and linear output to carbon monoxide concentration, requires minimal power as it is operated at room temperature, and has a long lifetime (typically commercial available cells now have lifetimes of 5 years or greater). Until recently, the cost of these cells and concerns about their long term reliability had limited uptake of this technology in the marketplace, although these concerns are now largely overcome. This technology is now the dominant technology in USA and Europe.

Rear
Rear

Rear of unit with connection pins. Hole here is to let oxygen into the cell which permits the redox reaction to take place in the cell when CO is detected, producing a voltage on the output pins.

Disassembled
Disassembled

Cell disassembled. The semi-permeable membrane on the back cover can be seen here, to allow gas into the cell, but not the liquid electrolyte out. Cell with the electrodes is on the right, immersed in sulphuric acid.

Platinum Electrode
Platinum Electrode

Closeup of the electrode structure. Polymer base with a precious metal coating.

Membrane
Membrane

Membrane & filter on the test gas input port.