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A fieldable, portable, reagent-free microplastic sensor enabling rapid readout and modular operation

Award Information
Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
Branch: N/A
Contract: 68HERC22C0008
Agency Tracking Number: B211E-0010
Amount: $99,949.00
Phase: Phase I
Program: SBIR
Solicitation Topic Code: 1E
Solicitation Number: 68HERC21R0144
Solicitation Year: 2022
Award Year: 2022
Award Start Date (Proposal Award Date): 2021-12-01
Award End Date (Contract End Date): 2022-05-31
Small Business Information
39655 Eureka Drive
Newark, CA 94560-4806
United States
DUNS: 184609621
HUBZone Owned: No
Woman Owned: No
Socially and Economically Disadvantaged: No
Principal Investigator
 Sheila Hemami
 Senior Director, Growth Initiatives
 (617) 283-1668
Business Contact
 Donald Seaton
Title: Head, Government Business
Phone: (650) 772-2450
Research Institution

The proposed technology addresses an unmet need in environmental sensing - providing a fieldable, portable microplastic sensor that quantifies the number of plastic particles and separates the plastics from the non-plastics for subsequent polymer identification. Readout will be provided in minutes (compared with hours required by current laboratory techniques), with no need for reagents or chemicals, only water to rinse collected particles from sieves into the unit. Such a system will enable more efficient sampling โ€“ field workers will get effectively instant feedback as to the plastics content of their samples, allowing them to dynamically adjust their sampling locations, concentration during sampling, and number of samples to ensure that time in the field is maximally productive. The core sensing modality โ€“ impedance spectroscopy โ€“ was demonstrated by our academic collaborators at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on the benchtop, under highly controlled operations with spiked samples. This technology can delineate between plastics and biological materials, which enables reagent-free plastic separation and counting. The next stage of development is to derisk integrating the technology into a fieldable unit by addressing practical considerations. This effort requires smart engineering, expertise, and experience, all of which the team brings to the table, with the issues to be resolved being challenging but relatively straightforward. Commercial applications include analysis of drinking water, wastewater, stormwater, and industrial processes in academic and research organizations, analysis and measurement laboratories, and environmental monitoring organizations (both public and private). End users include researchers, environmental professionals, and potentially even individual homeowners with personal use. The potential market is large: there are close to 20,000 wastewater systems and nearly 150,000 municipal water systems in the US alone. Nearly 1000 laboratories are accredited to test drinking water in the US. The number of US households on municipal water systems is approximately 113 million. Not all of these applications required a ruggedized fieldable unit, and design of a portable, fieldable unit will naturally also result in lower-cost versions for less demanding operational environments. No fieldable units are currently on the market today. Instead, lab techniques are tedious, require expensive precision instrumentation, and the use of chemicals to dissolve biological materials. Benefits of the successful commercialization of this technology include facilitating a better knowledge of microplastic pollution, which in turn can inform resource allocation for mitigation. Our goal is a price point that would allow widespread use.

* Information listed above is at the time of submission. *

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