Electronic 'nose' scientist wins grant to develop air quality measurement technology

Dr Andrew Kralicek has developed biosensor technology which could be used to monitor air or food quality, detect pests or disease, or for security purposes.

The first grant under a new fund to help scientists turn their clever ideas into commercial realities has been awarded to the developer of a "biological electronic nose."

Andrew Kralicek, leader of the molecular sensing team at Plant & Food Research, was awarded a $20,000 grant by the KiwiNet Emerging Innovator Fund.

Dr Kralicek has developed biosensor technology, which combines insect receptor proteins with man-made sensors to detect compounds in minute concentrations. The technology could be used to monitor air or food quality, detect pests or disease, or for security purposes.

He will work with Auckland-based Aeroqual, which designs and sells air-quality monitoring products. Aeroqual's chief technology officer, Geoff Henshaw, said the technology was of significant commercial interest.

"Aeroqual has received repeated market enquires for selective low-cost sensing methods for air toxins. This research programme has the potential to generate new technologies that would disrupt the current landscape," Henshaw said.

The Emerging Innovator Fund was set up by KiwiNet and the first grant was funded by the government's innovation agency, Callaghan Innovation, with the Norman FB Barry Trust financing 10 further grants of $20,000 each. The grants are designed to link researchers with commercial mentors.

The rest of the grants are yet to be announced but KiwiNet's general manager Bram Smith said the applications received had been strong, with the fund looking for ideas at the very early stage, which is not covered by traditional grants but could result in disruptive innovation.

"It's hard for emerging researchers who've got ideas to get on the first rung of the ladder," Mr Smith said. "Our focus is on getting young researchers working alongside companies. A lot of the funding from government is either targeted at doing science, big science grants or solving a particular industry problem. This is about scientists coming up with new ideas and going out to companies and saying here's an opportunity you hadn't thought of before."

Mr Smith said air quality and emissions regulation compliance was critical in some countries, and monitoring of air toxins was a $200 million industry annually.

"Andrew's new technology could immediately create new sensor manufacturing opportunities by providing a solution for monitoring air quality and detecting emissions or gas leaks at industrial sites," he said.

Dr Kralicek said the funding would go toward making a prototype sensor for air quality monitoring. The technology uses insect odorant receptors, which are "orders of magnitude ahead of the most advanced man-made electronic noses" and can detect a wide range of natural and synthetic chemicals at extremely low levels, he said. Combined with electronic sensors, the technology will be able to detect compounds such as hazardous pollutants in parts-per-billion and parts-per-trillion concentrations.


BusinessDesk receives funding to help cover the commercialisation of innovation from Callaghan Innovation.

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