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ORNL's AquaSentinel licensed to East Tennessee startup company
(from left) Ray Slatton and Robert Clark of SecureWaters Inc. examine samples of algae that form the basis of the AquaSentinel water monitoring technology, which was developed by ORNL's Elias Greenbaum (right) and licensed Monday to SecureWaters. (hi-res image)
Municipal, military and other governmental organizations that are responsible for safeguarding water supplies now have access to the monitoring technology called AquaSentinel, which offers around-the-clock detection of waterborne toxic agents.
Ray Slatton, CEO of SecureWaters Inc., said AquaSentinel could help protect reservoirs, lakes and streams that furnish drinking water supplies.
"The focus on homeland security has led to an increased awareness of the water supply's vulnerability to accidental contamination and bioterrorist attacks," Slatton said.
AquaSentinel, developed by Elias Greenbaum of ORNL's Chemical Sciences Division, uses naturally occurring algae that act as tiny biosensors. Like microscopic canaries in a coal mine, the algae provide an early warning of water contamination by responding to toxins with variations in their photosynthetic behavior.
Fluorometer measurements capture any photosynthetic changes in the algae, and the resulting data are then transferred by encrypted wireless telecommunications to a remote facility, where operators can respond to any potential threats.
"It uses the fundamental principles of photosynthesis and state-of-the-art optoelectric instrumentation to provide continuous, unattended protection of all sunlight exposed primary source drinking water supplies," Greenbaum said.
Because algae naturally grow in all water that is exposed to light, the monitoring technique is applicable for detection purposes in all reservoirs, rivers and lakes that serve as drinking water supply sources.
In addition to its applications in threat detection, AquaSentinel can be used as a tool for companies or utilities to demonstrate environmental compliance. The generated monitoring data is archived for 30 days, allowing users to access historical measurements and see if water quality standards are within mandated limits.
"With AquaSentinel, facilities can continually monitor their own effluent in a cost-effective manner," Slatton said. "This technology eliminates the need for personnel to randomly collect water samples in the field as it does not require special training and is self-operating and self-cleaning."
The original research leading to the AquaSentinel technology was supported by the DOE Office of Science, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the private firm BAE Systems. SecureWaters Inc. is based in Soddy-Daisy, Tenn. http://www.secureaqua.com/.
ORNL is managed by UT-Battelle for the Department of Energy's Office of Science.
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