U of M Licenses Emission-Reducing Tech to Startup

Twin Cities startup United Science will further develop a new sensor that has the potential to eliminate at least 24 tons of toxic waste emissions per mine.

The University of Minnesota said Thursday that it has licensed a sensor technology designed to reduce toxic emissions in mines to a Twin Cities startup.

The sensor technology, developed by the university's chemistry associate professor Philippe Buhlmann, will be further developed and commercialized by Center City-based United Science. United Science will mainly target the copper mining industry for now, but the technology may later be extended to iron mines and the food-safety industry.

Buhlmann developed a kind of ion selective electrode (ISE) sensor membrane that can detect and measure hazardous substances present in chemicals used by miners to extract ore. The technology will prevent mining companies from using more chemicals than necessary, thus releasing fewer toxins into the environment. United Science said that if the technology was used industry-wide, the sensors would have the potential to eliminate at least 24 tons of toxic waste emissions per mine.

While there are similar sensors available in the market, Buhlmann's fluorous sensor membrane is longer lasting, more durable, and has improved selectivity and less interference, the university claims.

“We can get thousands of times higher selectivity than with conventional sensors,” Buhlmann said in a statement. “They are more selective and more resistant to bio-fouling.”

Buhlmann's research was funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Buhlmann and United Science received grants from the NSF to commercialize the technology.

“We were able to successfully apply the technology to some very challenging applications in the mining market, United Science CEO Jon Thompson said in a release. “Other sensors that address challenges in other markets are under development. Our market approach involves first identifying the need and value of a unique sensor; then we leverage the product platform.”

The University of Minnesota ranks among the top 20 public institutions in terms of research-related activities, according to the National Science Foundation. Sponsored awards for research made to the university in fiscal year 2009 totaled $564 million.