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23 August 2016

EU's MIRPHAB project unveils mid-IR chemical sensor six-times faster than alternatives

The project MIRPHAB (MidInfraRed PHotonics devices fABrication for chemical sensing and spectroscopic applications) has unveiled a chemical sensor capable of detecting drugs and explosives from a distance of 30m.

Lasting from the beginning of 2016 to the end of 2019, the MIRPHAB project comprises an 18-strong consortium funded by €13m from the European Commission's Photonics Public Private Partnership (PPP) as well as €2m from the Swiss government. The aim is to create a reliable supply chain of mid-infrared (MIR) photonic components so that companies (particularly SMEs already active in analytical MIR sensing) can make ready-for-use sensing devices by 2020. MIRPHAB is also establishing a pilot line to serve the growing needs of European industry in the field of analytical micro-sensors.

"We are making the next generation of sensors that are compact, low cost, low on power consumption and capable of real-time detection where the speed and sensibility is unrivalled," says project coordinator Sergio Nicoletti. The new sensor, which reads the unique frequencies given off when liquids or gases interact with light, could soon be installed at the entrance of airports, in order to scan crowds and bags for suspicious materials before they enter the building. The latter is one of many potential applications contemplated. Among other things, the mid-IR sensor can detect diseases, scan for bacteria in fridges, detect the presence of alcohol or even monitor carbon emissions to help mitigate climate change.

The new development could lead to new business and commercial opportunities for SMEs and large industrial groups, reckons Jose Pozo, director of technology and innovation at the European Photonics Industry Consortium (EPIC). The planned pilot line will not only enable reduced cost, power consumption and size, but the exploitation of a mixed silicon/III-V technology is also foreseen to open the way to applications not addressable with current technologies and components.

The new sensor harnesses new photonics technology and uses the mid-IR wavelength band (3-12μm) for greater performance. In this so-called 'fingerprint region', chemicals exhibit intense absorption features that allow unmatched detection capabilities and unambiguous identification, it is claimed.

The device can detect chemicals at a rate of 1200 per hour – over six times more than standard portal scanners – and is also very small. "We want to shrink current technology down to the size of a mobile phone," says Nicoletti. To achieve this, the R&D process taps into project partners' expertise in the field of spectroscopy, mid-IR optoelectronics, sensing systems and applications.

MIRPHAB is one of three manufacturing pilot lines supported by Horizon 2020 (the European Union's framework program for Research and Innovation for 2014-2020) to boost Europe's competitiveness in the sector (along with PIX4LIFE, a photonics platform for health applications, and PI-SCALE, which is hoped to accelerate the commercial adoption of OLED technology).

Tags: Mid-infrared detectors

Visit: www.mirphab.eu

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