July 28, 2020
News Release

PNNL’s Vapor Detection Technology Named GeekWire’s ‘Innovation of the Year’

Win is a first for PNNL and the only winner from Eastern Washington

Geekwire award2

SEATTLE, Wash. – A technology that can quickly detect explosive vapors, deadly chemicals and illicit drugs with unparalleled accuracy has been named the 2020 Innovation of the Year by GeekWire, the Seattle-based technology news company.

The vapor detection technology, known as VaporID, was developed by researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash. It and other winners of GeekWire’s annual awards for the Northwest’s top companies and technologies were announced at a virtual ceremony on July 23. PNNL was the only winner from Eastern Washington.

“There were several worthwhile nominees, so this is a great honor,” said PNNL chemist and co-inventor Robert Ewing, who accepted the award on behalf of PNNL. “The award means a great deal to those of us who worked on the technology as it has such potential to improve public safety.”

VaporID accurately detects and identifies the vapors of even very low-volatility explosives in real time, in extremely small amounts, at ambient temperature, and without sample pre-concentration. The technology identifies explosive compounds, such as C-4, PETN, Semtex, nitroglycerin, tetryl and TNT, as well as vapors emanating from toxic chemicals similar in structure to nerve agents. Recently, the capability was proven effective at identifying illicit drugs, such as fentanyl, methamphetamine and cocaine.

Rather than searching for particle residue using a typical method like surface swipes or using pulses of air to dislodge particles for analysis, the system 'sniffs' directly for explosives vapors, much the way bomb-sniffing canines do.

In the not-too-distant future, contact and canine-assist methods could be complemented or replaced by the VaporID technology in mailrooms, at airports and other venues where public safety is imperative.

This is the second major award for VaporID. It received an R&D 100 Award in 2019.


About PNNL

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory draws on its distinguishing strengths in chemistry, Earth sciences, biology and data science to advance scientific knowledge and address challenges in sustainable energy and national security. Founded in 1965, PNNL is operated by Battelle for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. DOE’s Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://energy.gov/science. For more information on PNNL, visit PNNL's News Center. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.

Published: July 28, 2020