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The common types of breathalysers - semiconductor vs. fuel cell

The common types of breathalysers - semiconductor vs. fuel cell - Andatech

The first breathalyser that can quantitatively measure alcohol concentration in exhaled air was invented in 1958. The breathalyser technology has evolved from photometers measuring the reaction between breath alcohol and potassium dichromate to semiconductor and fuel cell sensors.

Even though both semiconductor and fuel cell sensors utilise chemical reactions in measuring breath alcohol concentration, several differences should be considered when choosing suitable breathalysers for workplace use.

Accuracy & Reliability

Semiconductor breathalysers can read up to 2 decimal places accurately. In comparison, fuel cell breathalysers can often read up to 3 decimal places and can detect the slightest difference in breath alcohol concentration. For example, a semiconductor breathalyser can measure a breath alcohol concentration of 0.01g/210L, but a fuel cell breathalyser can measure an even lower breath alcohol concentration of 0.001g/210L.

Furthermore, semiconductor breathalysers pick up other chemical substances such as ketone and acetone from individuals with diabetes and those who are on a low caloric diet. Thus, the false-positive result. Fuel cell breathalysers, on the other hand, only measure ethanol compounds ensuring a more accurate result.

Fuel cell breathalysers are undeniably a better choice for high accuracy and reliability in breath alcohol testing in the workplace.


In terms of lifespan, fuel sensors are more long-lasting. A semiconductor breathalyser typically lasts for only a few years even with extra care and regular calibration while fuel cell breathalysers can last for at least 5 years. It’s noteworthy to check the manufacturer for product warranty. In case of malfunctions, you’re able to have it returned or replaced.

Calibration requirement

Regular calibration is necessary regardless of the sensor type you’re getting. Both fuel cell and semiconductor breathalysers must be checked at least once every six to twelve months to ensure reading accuracy and reliability. Some quality fuel cell breathalysers with a longer calibration frequency can maintain their performance over a longer period of time. Breathalysers should be sent for calibration more frequently if high-volume tests are conducted.


Semiconductor breathalysers are made of silicon oxide and thus, at least two to three times cheaper. Fuel cell sensors are made of platinum electrodes, hence the pricier tag. The material directly impacts the cost and the performance of the breathalyser.

Semiconductor vs. fuel cell breathalyser

Semiconductor breathalyser Fuel cell breathalyser
Accuracy & reliability ✔️
Lifespan ✔️
Calibration requirement ✔️ ✔️
Pricing ✔️


Even though semiconductor breathalysers are suitable for personal use, it is recommended to prioritise performance over cost when it comes to procuring breathalysers for workplace use because the breath alcohol testing data is important in executing the company’s alcohol and drug testing policy properly. Fuel cell breathalysers are far more superior in quality compared to semiconductor breathalysers; hence, they should be the first and only option for companies in Australia.