Oak Ridge National Laboratory


News Release

Media Contact: Ron Walli (wallira@ornl.gov)
Communications and External Relations


ORNL technology puts Knoxville company in remediation fast lane

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., April 2, 1997 — Slow and expensive commercial laboratory tests of water or soil may become obsolete because of a new instrument developed by the Department of Energy's (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and licensed to Environmental Systems Corporation.

The Knoxville company has purchased the commercial rights to the technology to be used in the Luminoscope, a field-portable instrument designed to detect, measure and monitor levels of gasoline, oil, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and pesticides down to parts per million levels in soil or in water. The instrument fits inside a suitcase-size carrying case and has a battery pack. A laptop computer provides instrument control, data analysis, spectral display and data storage.

"This instrument has the potential to reduce or eliminate the need for elaborate and costly commercial lab tests, which can take days to complete and cost hundreds of dollars per test," said George Peeler, executive vice president of BioChemTech, a subsidiary of Environmental Systems Corp. BioChemTech will provide marketing, research and development and customer support for the new instrument.

The key to the Luminoscope is its use of a unique spectral analysis technique called ultraviolet synchronous scanning. This technique, developed by ORNL's Tuan Vo-Dinh, has been used successfully in research laboratories for several years; however, the technology hasn't been available in a portable instrument. Furthermore, until now, testing protocols and methodology for field use didn't exist, Peeler said.

Luminoscope is the product of a collaboration between ORNL, Environmental Systems Corp. and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's National Exposure Research Laboratory in Las Vegas. A prototype of the Luminoscope has been developed by Vo-Dinh and co-workers Jean Pierre Alarie, Nance Erickson and Randall Maddox.

"EPA is greatly interested in the development of the prototype of this field screening instrument for use at both Superfund and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act sites; and DOE's ORNL had the expertise," said Bill Engelmann, EPA project officer.

The ORNL scanning technique is especially suited for analyzing PCBs and high-molecular weight organic compounds typical of hazardous waste sites. These compounds, such as polyaromatic hydrocarbons, are found in oils, creosotes, tars and other complex mixtures. They can cause problems for conventional portable gas chromatograph instruments because these compounds often clog columns and detectors.

The Luminoscope, however, isn't prone to this problem because it uses light emissions and reads the results.

"The Luminoscope directly detects the fluorescence from the samples without separation," said Vo-Dinh, a corporate fellow and group leader in the lab's Life Sciences Division. "The improved selectivity is a result of the synchronous scanning method, which allows spectral separation without physical separation of compounds."

If method optimization procedures progress as planned, BioChemTech's Peeler expects the Luminoscope to be available late this year. He and Tom Carlson, senior vice president of Environmental Systems Corp., have high expectations for the instrument and are especially pleased with results of the collaboration.

"We have a remarkable opportunity here," Carlson said, "with all the players required to ensure success, with our proximity to ORNL and our own base in the environmental industry.

"This development means growth for Environmental Systems Corporation, ORNL, for Knoxville and for East Tennessee. Perhaps most importantly, it means a new tool to improve the lives of Americans and people around the world."

Peeler put Carlson's last statement into perspective, noting that environmental contamination by petroleum agents is a major national problem, requiring an estimated $9 billion annually for remediation and potentially affecting the health of all Americans.

"By providing capability for more tests, performed rapidly, on site and at minimal expense, this new instrument can make a major contribution toward a safe and wholesome environment," Peeler said.

Environmental Systems Corp., through its several divisions, provides environmental sensors, data capture devices and environmental consulting and remediation services in the U.S., Europe and the Far East.

Research that led to development of the instrument was funded by DOE's Office of Health and Environmental Research and EPA's Las Vegas National Exposure Research Laboratory through an interagency agreement.

ORNL, one of DOE's multiprogram research facilities, is managed by Lockheed Martin Energy Research Corporation.