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Evaluation of a low-cost optical particle counter (Alphasense OPC-N2) for ambient air monitoring

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JournalAtmospheric Measurement Techniques
DateAccepted/In press - 4 Jan 2018
DatePublished (current) - 7 Feb 2018
Issue number2
Volume11
Number of pages12
Pages (from-to)709-720
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

A fast-growing area of research is the development of low-cost sensors for measuring air pollutants. The affordability and size of low-cost particle sensors makes them an attractive option for use in experiments requiring a number of instruments such as high-density spatial mapping. However, for these low-cost sensors to be useful for these types of studies their accuracy and precision need to be quantified. We evaluated the Alphasense OPC-N2, a promising low-cost miniature optical particle counter, for monitoring ambient airborne particles at typical urban background sites in the UK. The precision of the OPC-N2 was assessed by co-locating 14 instruments at a site to investigate the variation in measured concentrations. Comparison to two different reference optical particle counters as well as a TEOM-FDMS enabled the accuracy of the OPC-N2 to be evaluated. Comparison of the OPC-N2 to the reference optical instruments shows some limitations for measuring mass concentrations of PM1, PM2.5 and PM10. The OPC-N2 demonstrated a significant positive artefact in measured particle mass during times of high ambient RH (>85%) and a calibration factor was developed based upon °-Köhler theory, using average bulk particle aerosol hygroscopicity. Application of this RH correction factor resulted in the OPC-N2 measurements being within 33% of the TEOM-FDMS, comparable to the agreement between a reference optical particle counter and the TEOM-FDMS (20%). Inter-unit precision for the 14 OPC-N2 sensors of 22±13% for PM10 mass concentrations was observed. Overall, the OPC-N2 was found to accurately measure ambient airborne particle mass concentration provided they are (i) correctly calibrated and (ii) corrected for ambient RH. The level of precision demonstrated between multiple OPC-N2s suggests that they would be suitable devices for applications where the spatial variability in particle concentration was to be determined.

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