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A Unique Split Laser System for Environmental Monitoring

National Energy Technology Laboratory

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Technology Marketing Summary

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) have developed a novel split laser system for in situ environmental monitoring via Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) or Raman analysis.  The design features fiber-coupled, optically-pumped, passively Q-switched lasers that are small, portable, low cost and robust enough for even downhole applications.  The technology can be used in a wide array of applications, including, but not limited to, carbon dioxide (CO2) monitoring for CO2sequestration, oil and gas monitoring, and water analysis (groundwater and municipal systems).  The technology is available for licensing and/or further collaborative research with NETL.

Proof of concept experimentation has been completed. NETL researchers are continuing to design miniaturized lasers and optical delivery systems to allow further size and cost reductions. The researchers have identified the need to complete and demonstrate both single point and multipoint measurement prototypes.  The results would further validate the technology and expedite its deployment to the private sector. 


Environmental monitoring, i.e., the assessment of air,  water and soil quality, is highly important to oil and gas exploration companies, landowners, regulatory agencies, municipalities and any organization measuring emissions and pollutants.  The majority of monitoring technologies, however, are expensive and labor intensive, often requiring sample collection and preparation (i.e., external lab analysis) which can dramatically alter the sample and its inherent components.  Of those technologies that do allow for in situ analysis, few are amenable to measurements under harsh conditions, such as high temperature and/or pressure.

Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS), an atomic emission spectroscopy, offers solutions to the drawbacks of conventional environmental monitoring technologies.  It provides rapid and relatively simple qualitative and quantitative elemental analysis.  Significantly, this analysis can be accomplished without the need for sample collection or preparation. Moreover, LIBS can be applied to in situ measurements of gases, liquids and solids, making it amenable to the monitoring of air, water and soil.  The majority of available LIBS systems, however, are large and complex, employing aboveground, laboratory-scale lasers.  Furthermore, the design of current systems and the complexity of their components do not allow for monitoring under extreme conditions, such as high temperature and pressure.

NETL researchers have designed a LIBS system fully adaptable to field use and capable of measurements in harsh environments.  The system has been designed to be portable, with a minimal number of optical components, no moving parts and no electrical connections, which should translate into far lower production costs than competitive devices.  In addition, unlike competing LIBS systems which employ actively Q-switched lasers, NETL’s system utilizes a passively-switched laser, providing the same degree of precision timing as the actively-switched output with fewer components and a lower cost laser system. The NETL system also employs a unique split laser design.  Conventional LIBS analysis requires complete laser systems to deliver a high peak pulse to the sample, incompatible with the use of optical fibers which are ideal for at-a-distance monitoring.  To avoid fiber optic damage, NETL’s system employs a remotely-positioned laser diode pump capable of generating a peak power of only a few hundred watts as compared to the megawatts produced by conventional systems.  The low peak pulse is delivered via a fiber optic cable to a remotely-located solid state laser where the high peak pulse necessary for analysis is produced. Significantly, this unique dual laser arrangement coupled with solid state optics permits monitoring of even severe downhole environments while avoiding system damage.

The split laser design also provides for multipoint analysis, allowing multiple lasers to be distributed over a broad area, ideal for applications such as the detection of CO2 leakage from an injection basin.  Adding to the system’s flexibility, with few modifications the same system can also be used to provide output for Raman analysis, permitting the identification of organic compounds such as methane.  Thus, one system can be designed to be used for both LIBS and Raman investigations.  For example, the system can be used above ground or downhole to directly monitor CH4 via Raman analysis and detect changes in groundwater ions via LIBS.



  • Rapid, sensitive, in situ measurements even under extreme conditions (I.e., high temperatures and pressures)
  • Flexibility of single or multi-point monitoring using either LIBS or Raman spectroscopy
  • Minimal complexity with low fabrication costs
  • Assessment of solids, liquids and gases in a broad array of applications (see below)
Applications and Industries

Long-term CO2 sequestration monitoring

- Obtain surface, near-surface and subsurface measurements of CO2 post injection into geologic formations to validate storage and detect leakage

- CO2 can be measured directly or indirectly via monitoring changes in groundwater ion concentrations

·         Hydrofracturing

- Assess downhole fluid chemistry before and after hydrofracturing

- Monitor effects on groundwater via elemental LIBS

- Detect natural gas reservoirs using downhole Raman analysis, thereby optimizing well production and reducing drilling costs 

·         Municipal water treatment and filtration systems

- Provide on-line quantitative measurements of impurities and contaminants

- Monitor key operational parameters to improve productivity and enhance cost controls

·         Offshore Oil and Gas Industry

- Identify potential fossil fuel reservoirs

- Monitor impact on marine environment from initial exploration, through production to decommissioning

- Provide analysis of produced water prior to discharge/disposal

·         Pollution/Contaminant Monitoring and Remediation

- Measurement of ground water quality, air quality (indoor and outdoor) and soil composition 

More Information

US Patent No. 7,421,166 issued September 2, 2008, titled “Laser Spark Distribution and Ignition System.” Inventors: Steven Woodruff and Dustin McIntyre

US Patent No. 8,786,840 issued July 22, 2014, titled “Method and Device for Remotely Monitoring an Area Using a Low Peak Optical Pump.” Inventors: Steven Woodruff, Dustin McIntyre and Jinesh Jain

US Patent No. 8,934,511 issued January 13, 2015, titled “Laser Interlock System.” Inventors: Steven Woodruff and Dustin McIntyre

US Patent No. 9,297,696 issued March 29, 2016, titled "Laser Based Analysis Using A Passively Q-Switched Laser".  Inventors: Dustin McIntyre and Steven Woodruff

U.S. Patent No. 9,548,585 issued January 17, 2017, titled “Multi-Point Laser Ignition Device.”

Inventors: Steven Woodruff and Dustin McIntyre

Patents and Patent Applications
ID Number
Title and Abstract
Primary Lab
Patent 9,548,585
Multi-point laser ignition device
A multi-point laser device comprising a plurality of optical pumping sources. Each optical pumping source is configured to create pumping excitation energy along a corresponding optical path directed through a high-reflectivity mirror and into substantially different locations within the laser media thereby producing atomic optical emissions at substantially different locations within the laser media and directed along a corresponding optical path of the optical pumping source. An output coupler and one or more output lenses are configured to produce a plurality of lasing events at substantially different times, locations or a combination thereof from the multiple atomic optical emissions produced at substantially different locations within the laser media. The laser media is a single continuous media, preferably grown on a single substrate.
U.S. Department of Energy 01/17/2017
Patent 7,421,166
Laser spark distribution and ignition system
A laser spark distribution and ignition system that reduces the high power optical requirements for use in a laser ignition and distribution system allowing for the use of optical fibers for delivering the low peak energy pumping pulses to a laser amplifier or laser oscillator. An optical distributor distributes and delivers optical pumping energy from an optical pumping source to multiple combustion chambers incorporating laser oscillators or laser amplifiers for inducing a laser spark within a combustion chamber. The optical distributor preferably includes a single rotating mirror or lens which deflects the optical pumping energy from the axis of rotation and into a plurality of distinct optical fibers each connected to a respective laser media or amplifier coupled to an associated combustion chamber. The laser spark generators preferably produce a high peak power laser spark, from a single low power pulse. The laser spark distribution and ignition system has application in natural gas fueled reciprocating engines, turbine combustors, explosives and laser induced breakdown spectroscopy diagnostic sensors.
Patent 9,297,696
Laser based analysis using a passively Q-switched laser employing analysis electronics and a means for detecting atomic optical emission of the laser media
A device for Laser based Analysis using a Passively Q-Switched Laser comprising an optical pumping source optically connected to a laser media. The laser media and a Q-switch are positioned between and optically connected to a high reflectivity mirror (HR) and an output coupler (OC) along an optical axis. The output coupler (OC) is optically connected to the output lens along the optical axis. A means for detecting atomic optical emission comprises a filter and a light detector. The optical filter is optically connected to the laser media and the optical detector. A control system is connected to the optical detector and the analysis electronics. The analysis electronics are optically connected to the output lens. The detection of the large scale laser output production triggers the control system to initiate the precise timing and data collection from the detector and analysis.
U.S. Department of Energy 03/29/2016
Patent 8,934,511
Laser interlock system
A method and device for providing a laser interlock having a first optical source, a first beam splitter, a second optical source, a detector, an interlock control system, and a means for producing dangerous optical energy. The first beam splitter is optically connected to the first optical source, the first detector and the second optical source. The detector is connected to the interlock control system. The interlock control system is connected to the means for producing dangerous optical energy and configured to terminate its optical energy production upon the detection of optical energy at the detector from the second optical source below a predetermined detector threshold. The second optical source produces an optical energy in response to optical energy from the first optical source. The optical energy from the second optical source has a different wavelength, polarization, modulation or combination thereof from the optical energy of the first optical source.
U.S. Department of Energy 01/13/2015
Patent 8,786,840
Method and device for remotely monitoring an area using a low peak power optical pump
A method and device for remotely monitoring an area using a low peak power optical pump comprising one or more pumping sources, one or more lasers; and an optical response analyzer. Each pumping source creates a pumping energy. The lasers each comprise a high reflectivity mirror, a laser media, an output coupler, and an output lens. Each laser media is made of a material that emits a lasing power when exposed to pumping energy. Each laser media is optically connected to and positioned between a corresponding high reflectivity mirror and output coupler along a pumping axis. Each output coupler is optically connected to a corresponding output lens along the pumping axis. The high reflectivity mirror of each laser is optically connected to an optical pumping source from the one or more optical pumping sources via an optical connection comprising one or more first optical fibers.
Technology Status
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