The disclosure relates to a method of detecting a change in a chemical composition by contacting a conducting oxide material with a monitored stream, illuminating the conducting oxide material with incident light, collecting exiting light, monitoring an optical signal based on a comparison of the incident light and the exiting light, and detecting a shift in the optical signal. The conducting metal oxide has a carrier concentration of at least 10.sup.17/cm.sup.3, a bandgap of at least 2 eV, and an electronic conductivity of at least 10.sup.-1 S/cm, where parameters are specified at the gas stream temperature. The optical response of the conducting oxide materials is proposed to result from the high carrier concentration and electronic conductivity of the conducting metal oxide, and the resulting impact of changing gas atmospheres on that relatively high carrier concentration and electronic conductivity. These changes in effective carrier densities and electronic conductivity of conducting metal oxide films and nanoparticles are postulated to be responsible for the change in measured optical absorption associated with free carriers. Exemplary conducting metal oxides include but are not limited to Al-doped ZnO, Sn-doped In.sub.2O.sub.3, Nb-doped TiO.sub.2, and F-doped SnO.sub.2.
The United States Government has rights in this invention pursuant to the employer-employee relationship of the Government to the inventors as U.S. Department of Energy employees and site-support contractors at the National Energy Technology Laboratory.