Published 13 December 2011
Updated 28 October 2014

--- posted by Thomas Skordas, Head of unit "Photonics",  DG INFSO, EU Commission

Science and technology are two elements of utmost importance for finding new answers to old problems.  Nowadays, key enabling technologies have the potential of providing innovative solutions to current societal challenges. Photonics (defined by Pierre Aigrain as "the science of the harnessing of light") is one of these technologies that has already yielded results, in a field where current conventional technologies have approached their limits in terms of speed, capacity and accuracy.

Ethylene is the world's largest volume industrially produced organic material and propylene the second most used petrochemical commodity. Impurities of those gases in large scale production processes still lead to enormous chemical waste, since the detection of such impurities is a complex and slow process that takes 9 minutes with today's most sophisticated systems. 

However, thanks to a revolutionary EU-funded project called SENSHY, new gas detection systems based on Mid Infrared (MIR) Lasers have been developed that facilitate for the first time ever the detection of impurities in real time thus avoiding chemical waste being produced frequently and in high quantities. The newly developed laser source also facilitates new gas detection systems that identify, for example, methane in a reliable and low-cost manner that will ultimately save miners' lives.

Those are only two examples of the ways in which such a novel laser source can bring about benefits to citizens. This laser technology will facilitate many more applications which will have an enormous positive impact on people's safety and security while simultaneously contributing to a greener world.

Members of the European industry, namely the project partners NANOPLUS (a German SME), Gas Measurement Instruments (a Scottish SME) and SIEMENS, are now in the pole position to exploit the full potential of this new technology. The CEO of NANOPLUS, Dr. Johannes Koeth stated that: "the interest in our new MIR laser is overwhelming and representatives of companies all over the world will come for the product launch in January 2012." The new products will boost the business of NANOPLUS with growth rates expected to exceed 10%. After a product development and certification phase Gas Measurement Instruments will launch a new product (a portable gas detector) and SIEMENS will integrate the new gas detector in their large-scale chemical production equipment offerings. The SENSHY project has been nominated for the prism award in two categories of the Photonics West Conference, which is the most prestigious event in the field of scientific research and product development, thereby confirming this project's scientific excellence and unprecedented impact on the chemical industry.

 It can be safely stated that in particular the two involved SMEs will create more than 30 new jobs in the years to come thanks to the research results of the SENSHY project. The visibility of the project in economic and academic circles was very high thanks to extensive dissemination efforts: publications in 18 JOURNALS, 46 CONFERENCES and an INTERNATIONAL WORKSHOP.

 An example we should all learn from…