Fires are often caused by smoldering cables, but a new type of sensor could help detect these dangers before they become disasters.

The novel sensors work by analyzing the plastic vapors released by overheated insulating cables, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology reported.

The sensors can also detect interfering gases, such as propene or carbon monoxide to help cut down on false alarms. The sensors work by using a combination of a gas-detecting sensor chip and smart evaluation process with physical measurement.

"The combination of a smart evaluation process with physical measurement is the basic idea of this development," said Hubert Keller, Simulation and Measurement Project Head of KIT's Institute for Applied Computer Science.

The sensor takes simultaneous measurement of electric resistance or conductance yields, providing valuable information on the composition and concentration of the detected gas. The sensors could greatly increase the safety of cable ducts. They could have additional applications in detecting "toxic mold gases during food control, explosive gases in fertilizer silos, or leaks of natural gas pipelines."

"For the development of the sensor, we use the effect that various gases react in different ways with gas-sensitive metal oxides as a function of temperature," said Professor Heinz Kohler of the Institute of Sensor Technology and Information Systems of the Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences. "This effect is the basis of a self-heated, temperature-controlled sensor chip with four sensors, i.e. a sensor array. "

The findings were published in a recent edition of the Sensors & Transducers Journal.