This Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Phase II project aims to develop a sensor with the ability to provide an accurate, small, cost-effective, and low-power device for the detection and quantification of natural gas. The current U.S. industrial natural gas leak detector market is estimated to be $325 million, while the residential natural gas detector market exceeds $2 billion, both of which indicate the strong market potential of this technology. Phage-based colorimetric sensing is a new sensing mechanism, and has the potential to replace and improve detection across many applications. This project, if successful, will have a number of broader impacts. Firstly, 670 billion cubic feet (cf) of methane is leaked annually in the U.S. natural gas industry. Better monitoring and recapturing of the lost gas will result in less reliance on imported gas (3 trillion cf in 2015), thus stimulating economic growth and reducing waste. Additionally, a new type of sensor that provides accurate, compact, inexpensive, and power-efficient natural gas monitoring with wireless communication capabilities will enable large scale natural gas emission monitoring studies, providing a tool for scientists and regulators. Finally, a reduction of methane emissions will help combat climate change, as methane is a powerful greenhouse gas.
During the Phase I project, we have successfully fabricated colorimetric thin-film sensors, developed a data analysis algorithm, and shown our sensors are both consistent and selective against individual components of natural gas at industrially-suitable sensitivity. In Phase II, we will further improve the production and performance of the phage sensors. There are six objectives in this Phase II project. The first is to do sensor calibration using precise gas calibration instrumentation to improve sensor accuracy. Secondly, the sensors will undergo environmental stress testing to evaluate longevity. Third, a scale-up feasibility study will be undertaken to determine and optimize sensor cost. The fourth task involves the development of improved and more inexpensive sensor designs, while the fifth task will optimize the production process of the new sensor. The sixth objective involves a more comprehensive characterization of the sensor. It is anticipated that by the end of Phase II, we will have a precisely- calibrated gas sensor with data recognition algorithms, and an established and scalable manufacturing model, resulting in an improved colorimetric sensor development kit for natural gas that better meets customer needs in the field.