Transfer of PNNL's IRcell to IRsweep

Transfer of PNNL's IRcell to IRsweep

IRcell is an optical sensing technology developed by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and IRsweep researchers to detect and measure trace amounts of gaseous effluents at their source, such as manufacturing plants and factories. The reflected laser light is folded into a compact star pattern, exhibiting measurement sensitivity down to the parts-per trillion level in a small footprint instrument that is easily integrated into other systems. Thanks to a commercial licensing agreement, PNNL and IRsweep brought together their technical expertise to bring IRcell to market as a dramatic improvement to traditional detection methods.

PNNL and IRsweep were independently working on infrared (IR) sensing designs when it became clear that joining forces could be beneficial and potentially lead to a commercially viable product. PNNL received numerous inquiries for its patented multipass optical device and process, but as a national laboratory PNNL was unable to build or sell them commercially. Simultaneously, IRsweep developed a patented phase mask that reduced interferences and improved the performance of IR sensing, but the overall cell design still needed work. What originally began as discussions of mutual technical interest evolved into a technology transfer opportunity and the manufacturing of an improved product, IRcell.

PNNL brought to the partnership a patented design, an understanding of sensing needs and instrument design challenges, and a list of potential customers interested in procuring this device. IRsweep brought its unique intellectual property, technical capability, and resources to integrate the two technologies into its novel cell design and established a manufacturing facility to produce them cost effectively.

Now being sold worldwide, IRcell is revolutionizing optical IR absorption spectroscopy and gas sensing. The technology has been integrated into critical instrumentation with applications as diverse as gas analysis to identify nuclear materials processing and proliferation, and early detection of toxic industrial chemicals and breath analysis. IRsweep was recently awarded funding from the European Space Agency Business Incubator Center of Switzerland to adapt the technology to monitor air pollution. The Swiss federal laboratory Empa also deployed this device as part of a rugged sensor mounted on a tram in Zurich to continuously monitor for nitrite concentrations as low as a few parts-per-trillion in ambient air at levels.

Additionally, the IRcell technology was chosen as one of R&D magazine’s R&D 100 Award winners in 2017. The prestigious award honors great R&D pioneers and revolutionary ideas in science and technology. With its great sensitivity, faster speed, enhanced stability and reduced footprint, IRcell offers just that—innovation and revolutionary capability in the IR spectroscopy market, all resulting from the PNNL-IRsweep technology transfer.

Contact: Dr. Bruce Bernacki, (509) 375-2135,

Award Year: 
Far West