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Precise trace gas analysis, without the noise
Date:5/24/2010

RICHLAND, Washington Analyzing trace atmospheric gases can now be considerably more precise with the help of a device that delivers stable and reliable power to the lasers used in gas sensors.

The low-noise current controller was developed at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. The technology was recently licensed to Bozeman, Montana-based Wavelength Electronics Inc. by Battelle, which operates PNNL for DOE.

"Low-noise current controllers open up new ways for us to analyze trace gases," said Matthew Taubman, a PNNL scientist who developed the device. "Now we can evaluate significantly smaller gas concentrations."

Scientists often analyze atmospheric gas concentrations with laser-based sensors. Researchers sample air at sites of interest, such as on the ground near power plants or at high altitudes from airplanes. The sensor instrument then directs a laser through the sample. Based on how much laser light is absorbed by the sample, scientists can determine the specific gases present and their concentrations.

But smaller concentrations of certain gases can be challenging to analyze. One particular problem occurs when "noises," or random fluctuations, exist in a laser's wavelength and line width. Such noise prevents researchers from making precise readings.

PNNL scientists reduced this problem by developing a low-noise current controller. The device reduces the noise on the laser's power source, allowing scientists to detect smaller levels of trace gases. PNNL's controller is the lowest noise controller on the market that was specifically designed for extra-sensitive sensors that use quantum cascade lasers, also called QCLs. Sensors made with QCLs emit light in a wavelength region that many trace gases strongly absorb. QCL-based sensors become even more sensitive when they are powered with low-noise current controllers like PNNL's.

Wavelength Electronics already develops compa
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Contact: Franny White
frances.white@pnl.gov
509-375-6904
DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert  

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