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European Consortium Develops Novel Components for Miniaturized Gas Sensors

In a H2020-project MIREGAS, a research team from the Tampere University of Technology and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd, along with European associates, have created new components for miniaturized gas sensors that exploit the principle of Mid-IR absorption spectroscopy.

(Image credit: VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd)

The main advancements particularly involved the development of innovative superluminescent LEDs for 2.65 µm wavelength, photodetectors for 2- to 3-µm wavelengths, hot-embossed Mid-IR lenses for beam forming, and photonic integrated circuits (PICs) with 1-nm bandwidth for spectral filtering at Mid-IR.

Originally designed for optical communication applications, silicon photonics PIC technology enable the miniaturization of the sensor. Moreover, the components entail significant advantages in terms of reliability, cost, and volume production.

Since the currently available devices on the market usually include heavy, complicated, and costly instruments, the market impact is anticipated to be disruptive. The consortium-developed components enable miniaturized integrated sensors with major benefits in terms of reliability, volume production, and cost, which are contributory features for the extensive penetration of gas sensing applications.

For multigas analysis, the IR spectroscopy serves as a robust tool. Traditional sensors are based on the application of tunable lasers, spectrometers, or filters. The MIREGAS project has launched revolutionary components, which allow multigas analysis using built-in solution. In addition, with the help of the novel technology, interfering gas components can be excluded and the light’s wavelengths can be filtered more accurately.

MIREGAS—H2020 European consortium—brought together world-class European multinational companies and institutes. On the technology side, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd not only coordinated the program but also offered Si PICs and photonics packaging and integration technologies. At the Tampere University of Technology in Finland, the Optoelectronics Research Centre was responsible for creating new superluminescent LEDs, VIGO (PL) for Mid-IR detectors, and ITME (PL) for moldable Mid-IR lenses. GasSecure (NO), Vaisala (FI), and AirOptic (PL)—the Industrial partners—brought their know-how in the areas of gas sensing sensor and Mid-IR sensor development, and simultaneously validated the technologies created by the consortium.

The project will enable us to extend our gas sensing technology into new market areas. The MIREGAS technology offers a unique mix of sensitivity, selectivity and competitive pricing that will be a complement to our present high-performance, laser-based sensing technology. Airoptic plans to a release a first product for hydrocarbon detection based on the technology developed within the MIREGAS project in 2019.

Pawel Kluczynski, CEO, Airoptic.

Bearing in mind the potential market for devices developed in the MIREGAS project, VIGO System SA has started to implement a development plan that assumes investments in increasing technological and production capacities— which will allow for the future, high volume production of sensors based on SLED sources. The main actions of the plan are the purchase of a high-performance epitaxial machine, the expansion of the assembly capabilities and the acquisition of specialists in the field of epitaxial materials for the production of IR sources.

Przemysław Kalinowski, Chief Sales Officer, VIGO.

Within this project, ITME was able to establish technology for low-cost mid IR optics development using moulding optics approach. We have developed several novel glasses transparent from visible up to Mid-IR range. We establish moulding processing that allow us to develop free-form optical components with optical surface quality for Mid-IR without further polishing. It allows to reduce cost of production first, but also to develop lenses in environment friendly matter since number of glass waste is dramatically reduces. Also grinding and polishing process that requires use of large amount of water and polishing powders is totally redundant. We found also new materials for mould development that are low cost and can be processed with standard CNC machines. This way our technology becomes cost effective also for prototyping and short series of components. This breakthrough give access for custom made free-form glass optics even for SME companies. Now we verify market potential of our technology and offer access to this technology as a custom service through ITME. After market validation, we plan to transfer this technology to other existing companies or establish spin-off company. Some venture funds and world-recognized companies already expresses their interest in our innovations.

Ryszard Buczynski, Professor and Head, Department of Glass, ITME.

At the start of the project, Mid-IR SLED technology targeting high-brightness and broadband operation was simply not existing. MIREGAS enabled important scientific breakthrough; in fact, the project results represent the state-of-the-art both in terms of power and wavelength coverage. Yet, what it is maybe the most important, contributed to creating a new European ecosystem based on combined expertise in Mid-IR optoelectronics and Si-photonics. We are just at the start of many other applications we will target with this powerful combination of technologies,” added Professor Mircea Guina, the head of ORC team at Tampere University.

VTT’s Silicon-on-Insulator (SOI) based Photonic Integrated Circuit (PIC) technology owns two unique features: Firstly, in addition to the conventional optical communications wavelengths at 1550 nm, it is applicable for Mid-IR wavelengths; Secondly, it allows for the integration of active devices, such as, laser diodes or photodetectors, directly on the PIC chip. Therefore, the SOI PIC technology is very attractive for gas sensing and sensor integration, in general. In the MIREGAS project, we were able to take this offering to the next level together with the beneficiaries.

Pentti Karioja, Project Coordinator, VTT.

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