New air monitoring system gains EPA support

By on September 5, 2012

A research and development firm in Massachusetts has developed air quality monitoring equipment capable of detecting more compounds at lower levels than current commercial systems.

OPTRA, Inc., of Topsfield, was recently awarded a Small Business Innovation and Research (SBIR) program grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its air monitoring efforts. The company has been working on the new system for over a decade.

“Trace levels are concerning if it’s a particularly toxic compound such as a chemical agent or one with very low vapor pressure, such as many explosives,” said Julia Rentz Dupuis, chief technology officer at OPTRA. “Trace levels are also interesting for some process monitoring applications where very low levels of contaminants pose serious threats to the quality of the product. An example is semiconductor manufacturing.”

By integrating a chemical agent detector that it had been developing since 1998 with a device that studies gases using light waves, the company was able to find compounds at trace levels previously unattainable.

“The overall solution lets us measure very low concentrations of a wide range of chemicals of interest for air quality monitoring applications,” said Dupuis.

Tens of compounds can be detected simultaneously and hundreds on an individual level. The integration of the two devices provides an advantage over some commercial systems which still only detect one compound at a time.

In addition to providing a more useful testing system to its customers, OPTRA was able to improve its technology base with the new device.

“We saw this as an opportunity to expand the functionality of our FTIR (Fourier transform infrared) modulator and fill a potential market gap. To the best of our knowledge we are the first to develop a broadband system,” said Dupuis.

The company plans to use the SBIR grant to produce a prototype of the monitoring system. OPTRA is also pursuing ways to automate the detection and identification of compounds by using algorithms.

Image credit: Turn685, via Wikimedia Commons

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