CrystalTwins – gas sensing technology for fine alcohol discrimination [NI-TECH-2020-20]

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CRYSTALTWINS is an innovative solution for sustainable, fast & fine methanol discrimination in ethanol environments, such as for methanol detection in alcoholic drinks.
It consists of proprietary (patented) gas-sensing materials  integrated with a dedicated portable electronic nose device. With this solution, laymen can easily detect at ambient conditions and non-invasive harmful methanol concentrations in alcoholic drinks in less than 1 minute, at a low cost (less than 1€).


Methanol is produced industrially in large scale (138 billion liters/year). It is mainly used as a precursor of commodity chemicals and pharmaceuticals, as well as a transportation and heating fuel. Methanol is about 2.5 times cheaper than ethanol.

Methanol is deliberately added to surrogate or counterfeit drinks, fuels, and disinfectants to increase profit.

Methanol adulterated drinks poison over 7000 people and claim about 1600 lives per year. The real socio-economic impact of methanol poisoning is underestimated due to under-diagnosis and reporting.

Methanol detection in high ethanol content environments is very difficult. Methanol differs from ethanol by a single carbon atom and cannot be distinguished by human senses. Gas-liquid chromatography is the gold standard method to discriminate between methanol and ethanol, namely in alcoholic drinks. Currently, methanol detection is confined to specialized large equipment in laboratories using slow (>1h), costly (>40€), and polluting analysis.


Ethanol and methanol are very similar molecules and is very difficult to distinguish them when they are part of a complex mixture, such as alcoholic drinks. Usually, heavy laboratorial equipment (like gas chromatography) is used to perform this task, requiring highly skilled technicians and long sample processing and analysis times.

Our CRYSTALTWINS solution works by smelling the sample (without contact with the liquid) and allows for the selective detection of methanol in alcoholic drinks by laymen in a fast, low cost, sustainable and easy way.

CRYSTALTWINS uses proprietary gas-sensing gel bio-based materials that respond selectively to methanol in the presence of high concentrations of ethanol (e.g. 40% (v/v), such as in spirit drinks). The gels are composed of >90% bio-based and recyclable components, can be miniaturised and produced easily in a scalable way.

The selective response to methanol is quantitative. Our preliminary data show that CRYSTALTWINS can quantify contents of methanol between 1 – 10% (v/v) added to a sample of pure gin and the sensors can be used repeatedly without degradation over 40 cycles.

CRYSTALTWINS can be integrated in a handheld device that meets the need for methanol discrimination in the presence of ethanol, namely in alcoholic drinks. With our technology, it is possible to detect harmful methanol contents in alcoholic drinks in less than 1 minute at low cost (<1€).


CRYSTAL TWINS technology is a spin-off of CRYSTAL SPIRIT platform technology that can also be found here.

Esteves C, Santos GMC, Alves C, Palma SICJ, Porteira AR, Filho J, Costa HMA, Alves VD, Faustino BMM, Ferreira I, Gamboa H, Roque ACA 2019. Effect of film thickness in gelatin hybrid gels for artificial olfaction. Materials Today Bio. 1.(publication link)

Hussain, A, Semeano ATS, Palma SICJ, Pina AS, Almeida J, Medrado BF, Pádua AC, Carvalho AL, Dionísio M, Li RWC, Gamboa H, Ulijn RV, Gruber J, Roque ACA. 2017. Tunable Gas Sensing Gels by Cooperative Assembly. Advanced Functional Materials. 1700803:1–9. (publication link)

Santos GMC, Alves C, Pádua AC, Palma SICJ, Gamboa H, Roque ACA. 2019. An optimized E-nose for Efficient Volatile Sensing and Discrimination. Proceedings of the 12th International Joint Conference on Biomedical Engineering Systems and Technologies- Volume 1: BIODEVICES: 36-46 (publication link)

Pádua, AC, Palma SICJ, Gruber J, Gamboa H, Roque ACA. 2018. Design and Evolution of an Opto-electronic Device for VOCs Detection. Proceedings of the 11th International Joint Conference on Biomedical Engineering Systems and Technologies:48-55. (publication link)


TRL 4 – technology validated in lab.


  • Patented bio-based material – low cost, recyclable and has an environmentally friendly composition and production;
  • Uses electronic nose technology – identification of fingerprints from simple or complex gas mixtures;
  • Real time response (< 1 minute);
  • Unique technology to detect and quantify methanol in high ethanol content environments;
  • Faster and simpler to use than the alternative solutions (works at room temperature, no need to be stored in the freezer, user-friendly, usable by laymen).


  • Detection of methanol adulterated alcoholic drinks;
  • Detection of methanol in alcoholic drinks during production, to verify compliance with methanol levels accepted by authorities;
  • Detection of methanol in fuels;
  • Detection of methanol-adulterated fuels;
  • Detection of adulterated disinfectants (alcoholic disinfecting solutions and gels).


The NOVA team is seeking co-development partners to support:

  • Seeking co-development partners;
  • Available for licensing.


  • Gas sensing, Sensor, Methanol detection, Illicit drinks, Spirit drinks, Alcoholic drinks, Ethanol detection, Electronic nose, Artificial Olfaction, Ethanol fuel, Methanol fuel.


NOVA Inventors

Ana Cecília Roque

Abid Hussain

Academic Information | NOVA School of Science and Technology | FCT NOVA