Detection of explosives using negative ion mobility spectrometry in air based on dopant-assisted thermal ionization

J Hazard Mater. 2018 Sep 5:357:1-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jhazmat.2018.05.054. Epub 2018 May 26.


The ionization source is an essential component of most explosive detectors based on negative ion mobility spectrometry. Conventional ion sources suffer from such inherent limitations as special safety regulations on radioactive sources or generating interfering ions (for non-radioactive sources) such as corona discharge operating in the air. In this study, a new negative ion source is introduced for ion mobility spectrometry that is based on thermal ionization and operates in the air, applicable to explosives detection. Our system consists of a heating filament powered by an isolated power supply connected to negative high voltage. The ionization is assisted by doping chlorinated compounds in the gas phase using chlorinated hydrocarbons in contact with the heating element to yield Cl- reactant ions. Several chlorinated hydrocarbons are evaluated as the reagent chemicals for providing Cl- reactant ions, of which CCl4 is identified as the best ionizing reagent. The ion source is evaluated by recording the ion mobility spectra of common explosives, including TNT, RDX, and PETN in the air. A detection limit of 150 pg is obtained for TNT. Compared to other ionization sources, the new source is found to be low-cost, simple, and long-lived, making it suited to portable explosives detection devices.

Keywords: Explosives; Ion mobility spectrometry; Negative ion source; Thermal ionization.