RICHLAND -- Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has won two awards in the eight-state far-west regional competition of the Federal Laboratory Consortium for outstanding commercialization success.
One was for the Low Noise Quantum Cascade Laser Current Controller, which allows scientists to detect and measure smaller amounts of trace gases more accurately.
Knowing which gases exist in the atmosphere is critical to several fields, including climate research and pollution remediation. Laser systems are increasingly being used to identify and measure atmospheric gases, but have difficulty identifying gases in very small concentrations because of the "noise" of random fluctuations in laser wavelength and line width.
The system developed in Richland overcomes that problem by directing a beam into a tube containing a gas sample. A detector on the other end of the tube then measures what is left of the laser beam. Based on how much laser light is absorbed by the sample, scientists can determine the specific gases present and their concentrations.
Wavelength Electronics, a supplier of laser system components in Bozeman, Mont., licensed PNNL's current controller and is selling the technology as part of its gas sensors. The controller also has the potential to be used in systems that could help detect microbes, scan for skin cancer, sequence DNA and take remote measurements.
The second technology to be recognized uses plant byproducts to produce propylene glycol, a common additive in food, liquid detergents and cosmetics.
It commonly is made from petroleum, but Richland researchers developed a chemical catalyst that converts a plant-based compound into the additive so well that an agricultural processing company has built a production facility around it.
Archer Daniels Midland Co. licensed the catalytic process from PNNL in 2006. After adding processes to clean out impurities, the company built a pilot plant that showed the propylene glycol could be produced at a competitive cost. Then it built a full-scale plant in Decatur, Ill., for the sole purpose of bringing the process to market.
In addition to the regional awards, which will be presented later this month in Monterey, Calif., the two technologies earlier were picked as winners of national 2011 Federal Laboratory Consortium Awards for Excellence in Technology Transfer.