New portable 14CO2 laser-based analyzer to provide data on climate change and carbon emissions

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Istituto Nazionale di Ottica-CNR, of Florence, Italy, and Planetary Emissions Management Inc., of Cambridge, MA, have teamed up to commercialize CNR patent pending technology for measurement of atmospheric radiocarbon using a high-precision laser technique. The new technology has applications for carbon emissions monitoring, defense, and the dating of archaeological materials.

The INO-CNR Radiocarbon Experimental Setup for Saturated-Absorption Cavity Ring-Down (SCAR) Analyzer. Optics and Photonics News Dec. 2012

“You can’t trade what you can't measure—the INO-CNR advancement is revolutionary, providing for verifiable accounting of fossil fuel CO2 emissions and carbon products...

Direct measurement and the tracking of fossil fuel emissions are key to the management of atmospheric composition, yet surprisingly few such measurement data are available. The problem is that the measurement of atmospheric radiocarbon dioxide (14CO2), the only direct tracer for fossil fuel-generated CO2, is difficult, expensive, and limited to large facilities. The groundbreaking CNR laser-based analyzer is portable and offers fast, high-precision measurements of radiocarbon that have not been previously available.

The groundbreaking, portable 14CO2 analyzer technology is based on a saturated-absorption cavity ring-down (SCAR) method with precision near that of the standard method of Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS). Paolo De Natale, director of Istituto Nazionale di Ottica-CNR (INO-CNR) and research group manager, said, “The new methodology is based on a high-sensitivity spectroscopic technique named SCAR that allows direct measurement of the number of CO2 molecules in the atmosphere containing the radiocarbon atom. The patent pending instrument has several advantages. It is portable and has a footprint about 100 times smaller and at least 10 times cheaper than the apparatus used until now. Moreover, it can be used with different kinds of molecules.”

Currently, the technology is under development in a partnership between the INO-CNR and Planetary Emissions Management (PEM) Inc. “The SCAR method uses non-linear effects that are often observed when studying matter, in this case molecules, with laser light,” stated INO-CNR researcher Giovanni Giusfredi. “These effects, which need high-reflectivity mirrors to enhance the light intensity in the gas, have been avoided in the standard techniques used so far. SCAR represents, in a sense, the ‘cornerstone rejected by the builders,’ necessary to identify the very low signal used to identify the particles of 14CO2 from the so-called ‘background noise.’”

The applications of the new radiocarbon technology are required for measurement of atmospheric radiocarbon related to anthropogenic emissions at the local project scale. Bruno D.V. Marino, CEO of PEM, Inc., said, “You can’t trade what you can’t measure—the INO-CNR advancement is revolutionary, providing for verifiable accounting of fossil fuel CO2 emissions and carbon products related, for example, to carbon capture utilization and storage, mega-cities, and transportation.”

Increased direct measurement of atmospheric radiocarbon in the field will leverage extensive climate change measurement campaigns (typically with few radiocarbon analyses) and can eliminate estimation of fossil fuel emissions typically employed for carbon trading. “A vastly increased data rate and lower costs for 14CO2 will change our approach to the management of anthropogenic CO2 and usher in an era of private sector monitoring and verification for new carbon financial products for voluntary and compliance markets worldwide,” Marino said. The collaboration is developing plans for manufacturing and service-based businesses worldwide.

About INO-CNR: The mission of the Istituto Nazionale di Ottica-Consiglio Nazionale Delle Ricerche, headquartered in Florence, Italy, is to develop, advance, and support Italian and international research in strategic areas of optics, atomic and molecular physics, and radiation–matter interaction.

About Planetary Emissions Management, Inc.: Planetary Emissions Management, Inc., located in Cambridge, MA, and Portland, ME, is a greenhouse gas services and technology company that addresses the management of atmospheric composition and greenhouse gas markets worldwide.

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