Hydrocarbon Sensing Device to Identify Contaminated Water

Stable and Portable Water Quality Monitoring Instrument

At a Glance

Researchers at Colorado State University have developed a chip-scale, reusable sensor to rapidly detect aromatic hydrocarbons, such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes (BTEX), in water without sample preparation.  The device is capable of real-time, continuous monitoring for BTEX solutes, to quickly identify contaminated water systems.


Aromatic hydrocarbons such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene (BTEX) are carcinogenic and hazardous to human health even at relatively low concentrations. To ensure the safety of municipal water supplies, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has mandated maximum allowable concentrations of 5 ppb, 1 ppm, 700 ppb and 10 ppm for BTEX, respectively. In recent years, industrial activities related to hydrocarbon production, processing, and transportation have resulted in BTEX contamination of water supplies. For instance, pipeline leaks have resulted in benzene contamination of groundwater in Parachute, Colo., and well water in Jackson, Wis. Additionally, hydraulic fracturing activity has been indicated as the cause of BTEX and gasoline-range organic contamination of the Pavilion, Wyo. aquifer.

Due to the increased health risks and remediation costs associated with larger contamination events, there is a strong motivation to develop portable, low-cost technologies, which can automatically sense BTEX contaminants and localize contamination events in real-time.


  • Provides faster, real time sensing of hydrocarbon contamination
  • Low cost, easy to manufacture, and compact
  • Stable and portable


  • Detection of hydrocarbon contamination in water (e.g., fracking, etc.)
  • Water quality monitoring applications
  • Refractive-index based detection (e.g., toluene and xylene)
  • Biosensing
Last Updated: May 2021
Water coming out of a faucet

Available for Licensing


Kevin Lear
Tim Erickson

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Jessy McGowan