‘‘TNO is a playground for optical scientists’’

Frerik van Beijnum is portfolio manager for Raman-LIBS technology. He sees plenty of opportunities for ‘his’ technology, both within TNO and throughout the world.

“At TNO, we are currently working on projects that involve Raman spectroscopy and Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS). Lasers provide a non-contact means of determining the composition of materials very quickly and very accurately. We can also measure the concentration of specific atoms and molecules.”

Alternative to renal dialysis in hospital

“Our cooperative venture with the Dutch Kidney Foundation (Nierstichting Nederland) is a fine example of how we can use this technology to help make the world a better place. At present, kidney patients have to go to the hospital three times a week, after which they often feel pretty awful. The Dutch Kidney Foundation wants to make it possible for more people to use home dialysis. This will cut down on hospital visits, while enabling patients to be dialyzed while they sleep, for example. The dialysis machines used in hospitals are almost as tall as a man. The Dutch Kidney Foundation wants to replace these with a more compact model. These compact models will require much less clean dialysis fluid than current machines (80 litres). They will also recycle  the fluid. We are working on a sensor that will continuously analyse the recycled dialysis fluid, to check that it has the correct composition. Using this technology, we can already tailor the dialysis given in hospitals to individual patients’ requirements.”

Reduced emissions at high speed

“Another example of the societal impact of spectroscopy is the sensor we are developing to measure the emissions of ocean-going vessels. In addition to CO2, these ships also emit NOx and SO2. The increasing use of cleaner LNG engines means that ships are now emitting a small amount of methane, instead of these other harmful substances, and in smaller quantities. Ship-owners want to comply with the regulations that apply here. They can use the sensor to continuously monitor the situation. This helps them to ensure that they don’t accidentally exceed the emission limits. We also expect these sensors to optimize the combustion process, which means that the ships will consume less energy.”

A single particle of light

“As portfolio manager, I am responsible for developing Raman-LIBS technology for TNO. I am working on a long-term vision for this area. What do we excel at, and what customers and applications should we target? For example, I’m holding discussions with various universities that are helping us to develop technologies we will be able to use in another four or five years, such as detectors capable of sensing a single particle of light. Using today’s technology, thousands of light particles are needed to determine the composition of any given material. In the ultimate case, we will only need a few photons. I have similar discussions about collaboration within TNO, but these are with experts in other research areas. For example, we have an excellent acoustic department at TNO. We may be able to use their expertise in measuring sound waves to boost the sensitivity of our optical measurements. For our optical scientists, TNO is a huge playground in which we can bring our technologies and applications to the worldwide market.”



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