Discrete mode makes laser-based gas sensing more affordable
16 May 2013
Founded in 2001, Eblana Photonics was born of technology developed at the Tyndall National Institute (formerly the National Microelectronics Research Centre) and Trinity College Dublin. Initially, Eblana Photonics focused primarily on developing Irish-designed laser diodes for the broadband telecommunications market, and with much success – the company shipped its official two-millionth laser last year.
With its manufacturing processes fully optimised for the mass manufacture of high-performance laser products, the company then began to look towards additional market areas in which its technology could offer further revenue-generating opportunities.
“We knew we had a very versatile technology platform which could enable us to access a range of industrial markets beyond fiber communications,” according to Jim Somers, Eblana Photonics’ CEO. “Our high-performing laser products, coupled with our experience of mass production, drove us to emulate our success in fiber communications in other burgeoning application areas for laser technology.
“One of our customers in China is a company that has a portfolio of gas-sensor products and it has since become a partner, with our laser technology at the heart of its methane-detection device. There are a number of ways to detect methane in the air, but our technology is more robust and has a much better life-span.”
VARIETY OF INDUSTRIES
Somers touches on an important point here: laser technology is beginning to be recognised as an accessible instrument for a variety of industries. Its use is no longer being limited to a small number of applications, or confined to the laboratory. Instead, single-mode lasers are slowly becoming off-the-shelf components, used in metrology, aerospace, medical imaging and one of the most exciting, although nascent areas – tunable diode laser spectroscopy, which is primarily employed in gas sensing.
Eblana Photonics’ Discrete Mode (DM) technology, whereby wavelength selectivity is induced by a periodic arrangement of etched slots in the ridge of the laser, is well suited to this marketplace. As the detection of more and more gases becomes a requirement of national and international safety laws, as well as by companies in the production and industrial gases arena, an adaptable, reliable and cost-effective means of detection is highly valuable, and indeed sought after.
In practical terms, what this means is that atomic or molecular absorption detection between 690nm and 2150nm is now readily available, using Eblana Phontonics’ technology. The effect this is having on the industry is so far difficult to gauge, as the move towards laser-based techniques has been slow, but this Irish company, with Irish technology and Irish talent is paving the way for affordable, highly sensitive gas detection for a growing number of application areas.
“Spectroscopy is not quite as big a market as telecommunications, but it is nonetheless a relatively high volume market with unit prices that don’t suffer the same pressures as those in telecoms,” said Somers. “In addition, it’s growing all the time. One coal mine might order hundreds of units and there are some 20,000 coal mines in China alone.
“Along with methane detection, we have laser diodes for detecting carbon dioxide, ammonia and moisture,” he continued. “In the latter case, for example, ensuring that there is no moisture in the atmosphere. This is a crucial requirement in particular industries, most notably for wafer fabrication.”
Eblana Photonics is now seeing growing revenues and the company has been able to attract additional investment. Two years ago, some 75% of its revenue was from telecoms and 25% was from development projects. “Now, projects account for 20% of the company’s revenue, with the remaining 80% split 50/50 between telecoms and speciality products, such as methane detection,” explained Somers. “But the speciality-products revenue is growing most quickly.”
So it seems that Eblana Photonics is set to build rapidly on its success to date in the gas-sensing arena and is also planning to widen its target markets to include areas such as aerospace, medical and security with the implementation of a product roadmap. This will allow the company to plot a course well beyond its beginnings in fiber communications.
http://www.engineersjournal.ie/2013/05/16/discrete-mode-makes-laser-based-gas-sensing-more-affordable/http://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Eblana-1-1024x683.jpeghttp://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Eblana-1-300x300.jpegTechTrinity College Dublin,Tyndall National Institute