Supelco Licenses ORNL Solid Sorbent Air Sampling Material

May 06, 1997

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., May 6, 1997 -- Detecting airborne pollutants such as carcinogens and industrial effluents can be complex and costly. A new material developed by researchers at the Department of Energy's (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) may find use as a cost-effective way of detecting and measuring such compounds.

The product, Sol-Gel Derived Sorbents for Analysis of Organic Contaminants, is capable of sampling, retaining, concentrating and releasing organics ranging from highly volatile to semi-volatile samples. The material, recently licensed by Supelco, a Pennsylvania-based supplier of environmental products, is expected to be more productive and less costly than air sampling traps on the market because of its chemical and thermal stability.

While Supelco has not yet commercialized the sol-gel material, "the new products will give us greater selectivity in sampling a wider array of materials because it allows us to achieve lower limits of detection than were once possible," said George Wachob, Supelco's manager of research and development.

The ORNL air sampler comprises a tube containing a sol-gel sorbent, which is an organic-inorganic composite material. The sol-gel sorbent trap collects organic contaminants from the air, and is then heated to release collected samples into a modified gas chromatograph for analysis, explained co-inventors Mike Sigman and Amy Dindal of ORNL's Chemical and Analytical Sciences Division.

The researchers benchmarked the sol-gel air sampling trap performance against Supelco's popular multi-carbon air sampling traps. ORNL found that the sol-gel trap performance compares to and sometimes exceeds the performance of the commercially available trap. In addition, use of a single-sorbent configuration allows the air sampling trap to be applied to a broader range of sampling methods, as well as lowering production costs.

Perhaps the sorbent trap's most impressive feature is its higher thermal stability. The conventional carbon-based traps can be heated to only 400 Celsius before the materials degrade. The sol-gel material, however, can be heated to 600 Celsius.

Technology maturation funds from the Office of Technology Transfer supported the development and evaluation of this material. It was initially funded by ORNL Laboratory Directed Research and Development seed funds.

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

Written by Jon Plemons

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