Long-term continuous monitoring of ground water where contaminants are present or suspected could be streamlined with a technology developed at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

A new method introduced in a paper published in Analytical Chemistry combines a membrane tube and an ion mobility analysis system, or analyzer, creating a single procedure for in-situ monitoring of chlorinated hydrocarbons in water.

"Our technology represents a low-cost yet highly accurate way to monitor contaminants in water and air," says Chemical Sciences Division researcher Jun Xu, the lead researcher for the project.

The proprietary system, called membrane-extraction ion mobility spectrometry, is a single compact device able to detect aqueous tetrachloroethylene and tricholoroethylene concentrations as low as 75 micrograms per liter with a monitoring duty cycle of 3 minutes. Xu notes that this technology would reduce the cost of long-term monitoring of contaminants in ground water by up to 80 percent.

"Based on this technology, a field-deployable sensor can be made, and you would no longer need to have someone take a ground water sample from a well and ship it to a laboratory for testing," Xu says. "The ORNL sensor does all three of these tasks in one step and very quickly, saving money."

Ground water monitoring, however, is just one example of the technology's capabilities. The sensor also can be configured to monitor well water, in addition to tap, river or other water suspected of having an undesirable or possibly illegal level of contamination. Also, additional membranes with different properties can be installed to enable collection of a wider variety of contaminants.