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Littleton small business receives EPA research contract

Release Date: 3/10/2005
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      Denver -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced that ITN Energy Systems, Inc. of Littleton, Colo., received $70,000 from the Small Business Innovation Research contracts program. ITN Energy Systems was chosen from a pool of 363 applicants across the country.

ITN will develop an automated smart sensor that can detect trace amounts of toxic heavy metals in water. By adapting their advanced x-ray fluorescence technology, a proven sensor technology in their solar cell manufacturing process, ITN will develop a sensor that continuously monitors very small amounts of metal and automatically provides feedback to process control. X-ray fluorescence is inexpensive, very sensitive, nearly maintenance-free, and generates a continuous signal for automatic monitoring. The sensor will detect multiple metals simultaneously but distinctly, initially focusing on mercury, arsenic, and lead.

There is growing concern regarding the susceptibility of the US water system to terrorist attacks. An important aspect of risk mitigation is implementation of smart early-warning systems. The best of these systems provides constant automated monitoring, and uses advanced identification techniques in combination with computer-based software to help utility operators immediately identify contaminants. Such systems are particularly beneficial when they promote safe water even in non-threatening situations.

The ultimate project goal is to adapt ITN’s technology to provide a smart automatic, early-warning, sensor for trace levels of toxic metals in water without interference from other metals, chemical state of the metals, or organic material. In the future, ITN’s sensor capabilities will be expanded to include higher sensitivity, calibration, portability, remote data communications, or cost reduction. The sensor will have applications for both water security and plant discharge monitoring, possibly for drinking water.

The 22 million small businesses in the United States employ about 51 percent of the private work force and develop most of the country’s new technologies. Years ago, Congress recognized the need to strengthen the role of small businesses in federally funded research and development and passes a law creating the Small Business Innovation Research program for businesses with no more than 500 employees. EPA’s highly competitive SBIR program offers critical financial support to small businesses to develop the best, new, innovative technologies. EPA’s SBIR program focuses on important areas related to environmental protection, including clean air and water, hazardous and solid wastes, pollution prevention, remediation, and monitoring. Recent issues include homeland security, clean-up technologies, and technology solutions for specific environmental needs.

To learn more about these research projects and EPA’s SBIR program, visit:

EPA relies on quality science as the basis for sound policy and decision-making. EPA’s laboratories, research centers, and grantees are building the scientific foundation needed to support the Agency’s mission to safeguard human health and the environment.