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Italian portable sensor system for olive oil quality assessment

Country of Origin: Italy
Reference Number: TOIT20161114001
Publication Date: 14 November 2016

Summary

An Italian microelectronics laboratory has developed two portable, battery-operated electronic systems to measure quality in olive oil. Analysis can be performed directly on-site by anyone, without microbiological or laboratory expertise. This allows to save costs and time. The laboratory seeks academic and industrial partners to work on market applications (under commercial agreement with technical assistance) and research cooperation and project funding (under research cooperation agreement).

Description

An Italian microelectronics laboratory of an important university has a strong experience in design and development of sensors and biosensors for industrial applications, such as impedance biosensors for bacterial concentration detection, sensors for olive oil quality assessment, characterization of different materials by Electrochemical Impedance Spectroscopy as well as design of microcontroller-based embedded systems for sensing applications.

*Problem:
Olive oil, obtained by pressing olives (the fruits of Olea europaea, family Oleaceae), is highly appreciated for its beneficial effects on human health, mainly due to the presence of high content of oleic acid and its antioxidant properties. Olive oil quality control is usually carried out by measuring a set of analytical parameters such as free acidity, peroxide number and total phenol content. Such measurements require chemical procedures that must be carried out in a laboratory by trained personnel. Moreover, since the toxic compounds are used in the procedure, at the end of the measurement they must be disposed according to legislation and regulations. In the case of small/medium oil producers, not having a chemical laboratory inside the production center, the samples to test must be shipped to a laboratory for analysis and the results are available with a delay of a couple of days. This results in high costs for the laboratory analysis and long times for the results.

*Solution
The Italian research group has developed two portable, battery operating electronic systems to measure different quality parameters in olive oil samples.
- The first electronic system measures the olive oil free acidity. It is based on the measurement of the electrical conductivity of an emulsion between the olive oil under test and an hydro-alcoholic solution (ethanol and distilled water): in presence of the hydro-alcoholic solution, there is a dissociation of the free fatty acids in the sample, thus increasing the emulsion electrical conductivity. The instrument time response is about 30 seconds and the results are shown on a LCD display.
- The second electronic system measures the total phenol content of the olive oil under test. The sample is mixed with a suitable chemical solution to create an emulsion and its optical density is measured by a LED/photodiode couple. The current drawn by the photodiode (proportional to the light transmitted through the emulsion) is used to estimate the total phenol content. The instrument time response is 10 minutes.

The Italian laboratory is looking for academic as well as industrial partners. The role of industrial partners should be to help in the marketing of the proposed application as well as to investigate new potential applications. The lab is also interested in developing relationships with academic partners, for research cooperation and project funding.
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Advantages and Innovations

- The use of portable, battery operated electronic systems, allows quality control to be carried out directly “in-situ” (on site) inside the production centers, since the systems can be operated by anyone without any microbiological qualifications nor particular laboratory qualification
- This results in reduced costs and quicker time response
- The system allows the possibility to carry out quality test on all the samples (and not only a subset)
- Moreover, the use of non-toxic reagents allows for quick and cost-free disposal at the end of the measurement
- The laboratory can follow every step of the sensor design process: from the initial definition of working principles and characteristics of the sensor, to measurement tests by building experimental setup with bench-top instrumentation, to prototype production of microcontroller based electronic board (designed with Orcad software and produced with a printed circuit board, PCB, plotter Protomat S62).
- The laboratory features the following main professional equipment:
° bench-top instrumentation for sensor characterization (oscilloscopes, function generators, multimeters, spectrum analyzers, impedance analyzers etc.)
° a welding bench
° a thermal incubation chamber WTC Binder
° two 3D printers (Makerbot Replicator 2X and Makerbot Replicator Z18)
° a plotter for rapid printed circuit board (PCB) prototyping (Protomat S62 by LPKF)

Stage Of Development

Prototype available for demonstration

Requested partner

- Type of partner sought: industry and academia: the Italian laboratory is looking for academic as well as industrial partners.

- Specific area of activity of the partner: Whenever bacterial concentration measurement is needed, especially in (but not limited to) food safety.

- Task to be performed: the role of industrial partners should be to help in the marketing of the proposed application as well as to investigate new potential applications (under commercial agreement with technical assistance).
The lab is also interested in developing relationships with academic partners, their role should be research cooperation and project funding (under research cooperation agreement). Both agreement types could be discussed and applied to both partnerships after discussion.

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