May 14, 2004, BOZEMAN, Montana– What probe functions like a Star Trek tricorder, can be pushed 100 feet deep in the soil, and has the potential to revolutionize mineral exploration, soil contaminant characterization, and petrochemical and chemical processing here on earth? Give up? It's called a CP-1000 x-ray fluorescence (XRF) cone penetrometer, and it's just been licensed from the U.S. Navy for commercial development by Austin AI, LLC of Austin, Texas.
“With this technology you can identify and measure heavy metals – and for that matter any element heavier than calcium – and we are working on lighter elements like potassium and phosphorus,” said Tim Elam, the Navy inventor, now at the Applied Physics Lab of the University of Washington. “This is tomorrow's probe today,” says Rick Comtois, President of Austin AI. “The CP-1000 is going to accelerate the shift in industry demand from laboratory to on site, or in situ, soil characterization.”
Researchers at the Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, D.C., originally developed the technology for detection of metals in soil and to provide quantitative information on their concentration. Today, commercial applications are being developed by Austin AI, while the University of Washington and NASA are developing applications for the Mars Rover.
The CP-1000 works by emitting low levels of energy into the soil that reflect back the presence and concentration of soil elements such as micronutrients for plants and precious metals in complex backgrounds. Promising applications include mining exploration and processing, mid to large-scale manufacturing, industry, government, recycling/recovery facilities, and very importantly, environmental monitoring and remediation – hazardous waste sites, brownfields, groundwater discharge, landfills, harbor sediment, to name a few.
The technology offers several advantages over the current state of the art. Because the XRF sensor resides inside a penetrometer, which is a cone tip only a couple of inches in diameter, little soil excavation is required to insert the device into the ground. As the probe is pushed through the ground, it takes readings along the way, offering higher resolution analysis than with traditional soil sampling. And because offsite transportation of samples and analysis are avoided, profiling can be achieved faster and more cost-effectively as compared to laboratory testing. Importantly, the device does not use a radioactive source. Rather, a miniature x-ray tube is powered by a transformer inside the probe pipe, making it safe for use without advanced training.
The licensing agreement was completed with the Naval Research Laboratory and facilitated by TechLink, a Department of Defense-funded technology transfer organization. TechLink, working closely with the Navy inventor, helped to identify the opportunity, undertook market research, and provided working probes to Austin AI to help with evaluation and commercial development of the down-hole probe.
Click here to learn more about the CP-1000
About MSU TechLink
TechLink is funded primarily by the Department of Defense and NASA to create high-value partnerships between those agencies and private industry to develop and commercialize leading-edge technologies. It was recently recognized as one of nine exemplary models nationwide of technology transfer by the US Department of Commerce. TechLink is Montana State University's main outreach arm to the technology sector in the state and region and is located in the Advanced Technology Park near the MSU campus in Bozeman. Visit the website for more information: www.montana.edu/techlink