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EU invests in tunable IR lasers

20 May 2008

The European SENSHY project will produce tunable 3.3 µm sources to be used in hydrocarbon detection systems.

The SENSHY consortium aims to develop application-grade semiconductor lasers in the wavelength range around 3.3 µm, with the goal of producing a new generation of laser-based gas sensing systems for hydrocarbons. The European Commission has granted the project €2.35 million, with the total project budget estimated at €3.2 million.

"SENSHY places Europe at the forefront of research in this field," said Marc Fischer of Nanoplus Nanosystems and Technologies, which is leading the project.

SENSHY focuses on novel gas sensors based on tunable diode laser spectroscopy (TDLS). "No application-grade semiconductor lasers capable of continuous-wave operation at room temperature are currently available at the necessary mid-IR wavelength," said Fischer. "Only pulsed operation or operation at cryogenic temperatures is possible. SENSHY will develop a new class of tunable mid-IR laser sources that will then be used to develop hydrocarbon sensor systems."

Hydrocarbon sensing is a growing global market, fuelled by concerns over pollution and industrial safety. TDLS systems built around semiconductor lasers can detect a variety of gas species at trace levels, but the lack of suitable mid-IR sources is hindering widespread exploitation of the technique for detecting hydrocarbons such as methane, propane and propene.

Overcoming this obstacle will need significant improvements in various fields, from epitaxial semiconductor growth, to tunable laser processing and sensor development.

"Co-operation at the European level is essential for obtaining access to the range and quality of personnel, technical expertise and resources required," commented Fischer. "Resources on this level are the key to fast progress. This would be impossible for an individual company or even at the national level within Europe."

Nanoplus is the co-ordinator of the project, and is tasked with developing the semiconductor sources capable of single mode continuous wave operation at room temperature with extended tuning range. The other industrial partners are Gas Measurement Instruments of the UK and Siemens Laser Analytics of Sweden. Academic partners are Julius Maximillian University of Wurzburg, Institut d'Electronique de Sud University in Montpelier, and Poland's Wroclaw University of Technology.

"Continuing innovation in research is essential to help maintain European competitiveness, and keep some of the most important European component manufacturing centres ahead of the competition," said Fischer. "SENSHY is an appropriate response to strong international competition, and turning the research results into commercially viable innovations will have a clear impact."

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