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Thorlabs Awarded ARPA-E Contract to Develop MIR Laser for Methane Sensing

Newton, NJ – December 18, 2014 – Thorlabs announced today that its Maryland-based wholly owned subsidiaries, Thorlabs Quantum Electronics (TQE) and Maxion Technologies Inc., in collaboration with partners from Praevium Research, Inc. (Santa Barbara, CA) and Professor Frank Tittel’s research group at Rice University (Houston, TX) have been selected to participate in a $30 million program focused on reducing methane emissions associated with energy production. The MONITOR (Methane Observation Networks with Innovative Technology to Obtain Reductions) program, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), will support 11 project teams’ efforts to develop low-cost, high-sensitivity systems that detect and measure methane resulting from the production and transportation of oil and natural gas.

For its part, Thorlabs and its collaborators will develop a fiber-coupled, tunable MIR VCSEL laser source in a TO package, offering a minimum of 1 mW CW output power over its ~100 nm tuning range centered at 3.3 µm. “The team we have assembled is ideal,” said Peter Heim, CTO and General Manager of TQE, “as we each bring different expertise to the mix: Praevium provides significant MEMS-VCSEL design and fabrication experience; Maxion has in-depth experience with Interband Cascade Laser (ICL) technology; TQE brings semiconductor laser packaging and manufacturing expertise to the effort; and Rice University provides the team with a deep understanding of the laser requirements for sensitive methane detection.”

The first two years of the three-year project will be focused on the development of the TO-packaged, MEMS-tunable VCSEL laser, culminating with a successful methane sensing demonstration. The final year will be used to ramp up the full-wafer-scale manufacturing of the packaged device, which will lead to dramatic reductions in the cost presently associated with identifying and quantifying methane leaks.

“I am thrilled that Thorlabs has been chosen to participate in this important project, which builds upon our recent efforts to make MIR technologies more readily accessible,” said Alex Cable, President and Founder of Thorlabs. “Over the past two years, we have been steadily adding to our MIR product offering, systematically through internal efforts as well as through our recent acquisitions of Maxion, IRphotonics, and Corning’s QCL business. We look forward to playing an increasing role in facilitating the important chemical, environmental, and defense research being conducted within this spectral regime.”

About Thorlabs: Thorlabs, a vertically integrated photonics products manufacturer, was founded in 1989 to serve the laser and electro-optics research market. As that market has spawned a multitude of technical innovations, Thorlabs has extended its core competencies in an effort to play an ever increasing role serving the Photonics Industry at the research end, as well as the industrial, life science, medical, and defense segments. The organization’s highly integrated and diverse manufacturing assets include semiconductor fabrication of Fabry-Perot, DFB, and VCSEL lasers, fiber towers for drawing glass optical fibers (silica, fluoride, tellurite, and hollow core), MBE/MOCVD epitaxial wafer growth reactors, extensive glass and metal fabrication facilities, advanced thin film deposition capabilities, and optomechanical and optoelectronic shops.


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