Fiat chooses Israeli startup to develop nano-sensors for measuring vehicle engine emissions

PML’s Dr. Meir Teichner: That’s exactly what the consortium is aiming for – to make the sensors useable and effective for nano particles. It’s high tech, it’s nano tech and it’s cleantech. Air pollution caused by automobile emission is a …

PML’s Dr. Meir Teichner: That’s exactly what the consortium is aiming for – to make the sensors useable and effective for nano particles. It’s high tech, it’s nano tech and it’s cleantech. Air pollution caused by automobile emission is a huge problem in the developed world. The individual automobile is one of the single greatest sources of air pollution as emissions from millions of vehicles on the road add up. Vehicle emissions are responsible for up to 50 percent of the emissions that form ground-level ozone and up to 90 percent of carbon monoxide in major metropolitan areas. Driving a private car is probably a typical citizen’s most “polluting” daily activity.

Now, an Israeli startup is taking a lead role in an international research consortium aimed to develop a method for measuring and analyzing emissions from vehicle engines in order to meet the increasingly strict standards of American and European environmental agencies.

PML – Particle Monitoring Technologies Ltd. – based at the Kinarot-Jordan Valley Technology Incubator, has been chosen by European car manufacturer Fiat SpA to head the consortium, financed under the ‘EU Sixth Framework Progamme for Research and Development’. The goal of the three-year program is to develop an industrial laser-based particles monitoring system for the development and production of nano sensors. The EU program will provide $3 million in funding, an important portion of which will be earmarked for original research by PML.

Under the project for Fiat, PML will develop monitoring means for the mass production of nanotechnology-based sensors, a development which could have giant implications for the global vehicle market.

“The parameters and standards for gas emission by engines are being raised higher and higher by the EPA and environmental organizations in order to keep our air clean. And emission of gasses is problematic,” said Dr. Meir Teichner, the CEO of the Kinarot Incubator and chairman of the board of PML.

“The car industry must find a solution to limit pollution and the emission of noxious gases. And in order to control it, you need, at certain places in the engine, to place sensors that are capable of monitoring the gas emission. However sensors have two major requirements – sensitivity and the lesser known one – quickness. So the problem is how do you make the sensors fast enough and sensitive enough to detect in micro-seconds the changes in gasses? The answer is nano sensors – sensors composed of nano particles that have a big surface relative to their size,” Teichner told ISRAEL21c.

PML has developed a new generation of particles monitors using online laser-based particle size analyzers. Useful also for the optimum production of cement and pharmaceuticals, the automated particle analyzers will replace the time-consuming process of lab testing, allowing the online continuous detection of solids like lime deposits in water, and also of sub-micron objects like viruses. PML has filed a patent for the technology with the patent offices around the world.

According to Teichner, the EU consortium involves companies and institutions in Switzerland and Italy which have developed technology which the nano sensors will analyze.

“The Swiss Technical Institute in Zurich has been able to produce nano particles in bulk, and a company in Italy has succeeded in taking the particles and ‘shooting’ them onto a film deposit. What’s missing is a nano particle analyzer that monitors the whole process – from the production of the nano particles through the shooting onto the film. This crucial step is the focus of the consortium.”

“The premise of the Euro project is our technology. You have to monitor the production of the nano sensor all the way along and to control the size of the particles produced. That’s exactly what the consortium is aiming for – to make the sensors useable and effective for nano particles. It’s high tech, it’s nano tech and it’s cleantech,” he said.

The EU-funded program, consisting of six members, began meeting in July in Milan, and according to Teichner, has gotten off to a good start.

“The people involve all know each other, and what we’re capable of. PML’s expertise has been recognized for a long time,” he said.

In addition to gas emission detection, PML’s platform can provide process monitoring solutions in the water, food, chemical, pulp and paper, and microelectronic industries – to name a few.

“Our prime target is the cement and water markets, to monitor filtration as far as particles are concerned,” Teichner said. “There’s also homeland security, and many other possible markets.”

Founded by a laser and electro-optics expert, Prof. Joseph Shamir of the Technion Faculty of Electrical Engineering, PML’s technology uses a structured laser beam that includes an illuminated laser beam and a dark laser beam, which interact to create complex signals that the system’s software analyzes.

“Structured beam lasers are sophisticated beams that provide features that can be exploited. When a particle interacts with such a beam, you get a complex signal and if you know how to encode it you can obtain a lot of information about the particle that wasn’t previously available,” said Teichner.

“Until today, particle counters are based on laser technology developed 30 years ago. You put the beam across the laser and you count the particles at that particular moment. With our technology, you can get information such as particle size distribution, and discrimination of different kinds of particles. You also get information about all the particles, not just that which crosses the beam. Because of the structured beam, you can also monitor and measure particles much small than previously possible – down to the nano particle level. And it’s all done online, as opposed to in the lab.”

Online, ad hoc detection of these particles at every stage of conduction will conserve an enormous amount of power, says Teichner.

“The energy and time saving aspect of online monitoring is huge. Today, without our technology – in the cement industry, for example – samples are taken at intervals, brought to the lab and tested to insure that the material is not ‘out of specification’. The problem is, between the time you take the sample and get back the answer, many tons of cement has been produced.

“With online monitoring, you get the answer immediately, which can make you aware if there’s a problem. If you’re connected to the control computer, you can adjust the setup to correct the problem, or even stop the process if need be.”

It sounds like Teichner and PML have it all figured out, down to the nano detail.