Von Windheim Receives $996K NSF Grant to Develop Smart System for Pollution Detection

September 7, 2016

DURHAM N.C. – Jesko von Windheim, professor of the practice of environmental innovation and entrepreneurship at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, has received a $996,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to fund his work to develop a smart, flexible large-scale sensing technology to detect underground oil leaks.

The new smart system will use a pioneering array of sophisticated sensors and wireless platforms – including mini-mass spectrometers and cloud computing technologies – to detect where leaks occur and track them.

Its flexible design will also allow it to be used for detecting and monitoring other soil-based, airborne or waterborne pollution. 

Doctoral and masters students in the Nicholas Environmental Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program will work with von Windheim and his partners to develop and commercialize the new technology. 

Oil leakage from underground cable systems leads to environmental damage and economic loss. Worldwide, the impact is estimated at $2 billion in direct economic losses. When environmental and productivity costs are considered, the total harm from underground oil leakage is estimated to be much higher.

“Our goal is to develop a low cost, self-configurable, highly flexible mobile system that can locate leaks and contaminants with minimal human intervention,” von Windheim says. 

The techniques developed through the project have the potential to improve future generations of distributed networked sensors through application of cloud computing technologies, he says.

Image for Jesko News Story

Von Windheim has assembled a team of experts in material science, computer engineering, mass spectrometry, behavioral science and commercialization expertise from Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment and Pratt School of Engineering to develop the new system.

The Duke team will work with industry partners from PFT Technology of Bellmore, N.Y., a leader in the field of perfluorocarbon-based leak detection, on the project.


Contact: Tim Lucas, 919/613-8084, tdlucas@duke.edu

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