Resource Efficient Innovations Database (REID)

Single chip sensor to monitor ethylene in the fruit supply chain

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Single chip sensor to monitor ethylene in the fruit supply chain
A miniature and cost effective ethylene sensor has the potential to significantly reduce waste in the fruit supply chain
In Development – The research team is actively seeking partners to further develop the technology into a commercial product.

Product Waste Reduction

Product Categories

Relevant Materials
Not Applicable

Relevant Packaging Formats
Not Applicable

Supply Chain Phase
Storage, Transportation


Ethylene is a gaseous plant hormone produced by fruit and responsible for its ripening. Within the fresh fruit industry, there is a need to monitor levels of ethylene throughout the transport, distribution and storage of the product. During transport, distributors want ethylene levels to be kept low so the fruit does not ripen before reaching the retailers. In contrast, at the warehouse ethylene may be sprayed in high concentrations in order to force fruit to ripen so it is ready to eat when it reaches the consumer. Understanding what levels of ethylene the fruit has been exposed to prior to sending it on will allow firms to more accurately gauge what levels of additional ethylene exposure are required to ensure the product is in optimum condition when it reaches the retailer.

Currently, the cost and size of options available has limited the industry’s ability to monitor levels across the supply chain. To address this limitation, a research team has developed a cost effective, single chip electrochemical ethylene sensor.
The sensor has a detection limit of 200-300 parts per billion (ppb) and recent improvements have shown that it is capable of detecting 100ppb steps in concentrations below 1 part per million.
These detection capabilities make the sensor sufficiently sensitive to be able to replace the large and expensive table top equipment currently employed in fruit distribution centres. The researchers state that the sensor is also cheap enough to use in individual fruit shipping containers, thereby providing information on the ethylene conditions throughout the supply chain. This information can be used to improve supply chain and storage conditions, potentially resulting in significant reductions in waste in the fruit supply chain.
The sensor is constructed from low cost substrates, such as foil, glass or silicon. At present, each sensor costs approximately €50 per unit, but the research leader believes that development and commercialization efforts should reduce this by a factor of ten.
The device is based on a non-acidic electrolyte that does not evaporate. Future research efforts will concentrate on further improving the detection limits (to around 10-20ppb) to enable other applications such as monitoring of plants, vegetables and flowers in greenhouses. The research team also believes that the technology could be extended to flexible packaging. In this case, it would be integrated into the substrate.
The technology has been developed by a team of experts from the Holst Centre and imec in the Netherlands, and the team is currently testing the sensor in a real food environment in collaboration with Wageningen University.
The content in this entry has been obtained from publicly available information sources only (e.g. press releases, website and trade press articles) and is subject to completion of a validation process with the technology supplier.

Potential Benefits

Fruit is a highly perishable product. Better knowledge of the ethylene exposure levels throughout the supply chain will help fruit distributors to reduce waste and to optimize storage conditions. This will reduce waste and help distributors to control costs.

Intellectual Property

The technology has been developed by a research team from the Holst Centre and imec.

Consultant View

There is considerable research and development activity in the area of sensors for monitoring the environmental conditions in food distribution chains. Readers interested in this particular technology are encouraged to search the REID database for other related entries. Relevant search criteria may include “sensors”, “indicators”, “RFID” and “intelligent packaging”.

Contacts and Further Information

Philipp Mattelaer
imec the Netherlands / Holst Centre
High Tech Campus 31
5656 AE Eindhoven
The Netherlands
Tel: +31 40 40 20 400
E-mail: and

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