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High sensitivity, portable photonic device for pervasive water quality analysis

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - WaterSpy (High sensitivity, portable photonic device for pervasive water quality analysis)

Période du rapport: 2018-05-01 au 2020-02-29

In a water distribution network, hazardous contaminants can be introduced into the system by intentional sabotage, illegal disposal of wastewater, terrorist attack, accident or due to naturally occurring incidences. Quick and reliable water quality monitoring data is critical for detecting environmental pollution and reacting in the best possible way to avoid human health hazards. However, it’s not easy to gather such data. Currently, water utilities rely heavily on frequent sampling and laboratory analysis in order to acquire this information. This method is time-consuming, expensive, and usually does not provide the necessary immediate input on notifying authorities.
For the situation to be improved, compact, portable and high-performance devices for pervasive water quality monitoring are required. Such devices should expand current limitations in detecting contaminants, transcending today’s paradigms, and bridging different technologies available, allowing on-line monitoring of possible contaminants.
The WaterSpy project addressed this challenge by developing water quality analysis photonics technology suitable for online, field measurements. WaterSpy technology has been integrated, for validation purposes, to an existing water quality monitoring platform, in the form of a transportable device add-on. The prototype has been extensively tested in the lab and then successfully demonstrated in the water treatment plant of IREN in Genova, Italy.
WaterSpy developed cutting edge photonic devices and techniques, coupled with new approaches in automated sample preparation and overall device automation, in order to provide new capabilities in water analysis. The main result of WaterSpy has been the development of a device that requires about 7h for detecting the presence of even a single harmful bacterium in 100 mL. This is in line with the EC and national regulations. With currently used systems, the same analysis could take up to 3 days.
The project has been successfully completed, achieving its main objectives with a major result being the overall WaterSpy device itself. It is a transportable device, suitable for on-line water quality analysis, capable of detecting a single bacterium in 100mL of water.
In terms of lasers, WaterSpy has delivered novel quantum cascade lasers (QCLs) that use the Vernier effect to tune their transmission spectrum in a highly selective way, allowing for high specificity and completely eliminating the need for optics between the light source and the light sensor. The project delivered also a compact beam combiner that can effectively combined multiple sources in the Mid-IR. The know how developed is an enabling technology for a large number of applications in bio-sensing, security and high-speed communications.
In terms of photodetectors, high-sensitivity mid-IR photodetectors have been developed, requiring limited cooling for their operation. A novel, auto-balanced detection amplifier has also been designed and used for WaterSpy. The GaAs immersion lens used increases the apparent optical area of the photodetector by more than 2 orders of magnitude in comparison with the non-immersed device of the same physical area.
A novel ultrasounds-based technique for particles manipulation is also being used as part of the WaterSpy’s pre-concentration module. A smart, polarization-based method for spectroscopy-based detections has also been developed. The system is complemented by several automations, such as automated incubation of the sample and automated cleaning/sanitization of the entire device.
Bacteria pre-concentration in the initial sample also takes place automatically, by exploiting a combination of ultrafiltration and cross-flow monolithic affinity filtration.
In terms of dissemination, WaterSpy results have been widely communicated through the press (multiple articles can be found online), but also through scientific literature. Open publications can also be found on WaterSpy’s Zenodo community. A final workshop was also organized in Genova towards the end of the project. Several project outcomes are already being exploited commercially, such as the lasers by Alpes Lasers and the balanced detection module by VIGO. A patent application is also pending for the polarization-based detection method. The consortium is working towards further exploitation and valorization of the project outcomes.
The project answers the need for pervasive and on-line water quality monitoring, without having to wait for laboratory results. Progress beyond the state of the art has been achieved in several aspects, starting from the device itself. In fact, current techniques for water quality monitoring require long waiting times, which increases the risk of late detection of a biological threat.
In terms of lasers, progress beyond the state of the art has been achieved in terms of better Vernier QCLs, with also a better match between design/simulation and actual devices produced.
In terms of photodetectors, (100) oriented MCT infrared sensitive heterostructures have been developed for the first time in the project. The (100) MCT detectors seem to be fine candidates for the state-of-the-art MIR photodetectors for detection of very weak signals. The balanced detection amplifier is also a novelty, already introduced in the market by Vigo System.
In terms of high-sensitivity, mid-IR spectroscopy, WaterSpy has achieved significant progress, both through the novel acoustofluidic ATR call and through the polarimetric setup (patent application pending). A fully automated bacteria pre-concentration device was also produced, while additional automations include an automated sample incubation mechanism, suitable for online devices.
In terms of impact, WaterSpy has a significant potential, due its applicability in the industry. The global water-related instrumentation market is estimated at over $20 billion. A significant advantage for WaterSpy’s fast commercialisation is AUG’s involvement in the project. In fact, the first version of the WaterSpy device will be developed as an add-on to AUG’s TRITON product, thus minimising the need for research on power, communication and sample pre-processing issues. It is also evident that the availability of WaterSpy in the market could have a significant impact first of all on the quality of life, health and safety of citizens. The technology developed through WaterSpy could also be exploited after the project for the detection of additional analytes and not only bacteria. Furthermore, the individual novel components delivered, both on the photonics and automated instrumentation side have significant exploitation potentials and thus impact.
Balanced detection amplifier
Some of the people in the WaterSpy team
Ultrasound pre-concentration module
Project logo
A Vernier QCL in HHL packaging (for WaterSpy use)
WaterSpy in the demo site