Buellton Company Plans Future Based on Gas Leaks


Santa Barbara, CA - January 21, 2007 - A Buellton company specializing in research and development of infrared sensor systems is seeking to expand its reach into the commercial world, envisioning potential customers in homeland security, oil and gas refineries, aircraft firms, chemical plants and regulatory agencies.

Pacific Advanced Technology, and its subsidiary Gas Imaging Technology, has been in business for 18 years, working largely in defense-related research and development.

On Friday, company President Michele Hinnrichs told potential investors and clients that the firm hopes to raise $8 million during the next three years to move the company -- and its technology -- to another level.

The firm's hopes are riding on its "Sherlock" gas imaging and analysis system, which can detect and show leaks of gases such as methane, butane and propane that are invisible to the human eye. It does so by using a spectrometer to scan and analyze light moving through gases.

And unlike its sole competitor, FLIR, Pacific Advanced Technology sensors can distinguish between types of gases and detect how much gas is being emitted.

The company, based in a 10,000-square-foot facility on Industrial Way in Buellton, has been making and selling the patented systems on an as-needed basis, explained David Rips, acting chief executive officer.

"The decision was made to take it to the next level," Mr. Rips said. "There is enormous potential for this product."

The sensors in cameras can be mounted on aircraft to detect an incoming rocket, for example, or be focused on improvised explosive devices to find leaking gases. The government could use them to detect chemical weapons.

The technology can be used to monitor the emissions of greenhouse gases, or seek out potentially lethal "sour" gases. It has the ability to see leaks with flows of less than 1 gram per hour, company officials said.

Peter Burke, senior electronic engineer for the company, also envisions a number of ways in which the technology can be applied.

"In the Santa Barbara Channel, you can see gas bubbling up in the water," he explained, giving a demonstration using propane and a video monitor to show the results. "It's natural gas seeping. We can see that gas bubbling up, but we can't see the gas once it's above water. With this type of camera, you could, provided it's a reasonable-size leak. We can measure how much is being released."

The equipment, about the size of an oversized video camera, weighs about 15 pounds. It now sells for about $100,000, with various other maintenance and licensing fees. The camera has a range of anywhere from a few inches to more than 100 miles, and has been used as a hand-held device and also mounted under a helicopter for scanning pipelines.

Company board members estimated there's a probable worldwide market for more than 200,000 units, representing a $15 billion potential. The local firm, however, is targeting a smaller share of that, with perhaps about 2,100 units, Mr. Rips said.

"We can do it and nobody else can," Mr. Rips said. "The product is already created; it needs to be enhanced . . . The market need is high."

Pacific Advanced Technology, which has a blanket export license, is currently building three of the machines for customers, including the University of Puerto Rico and an oil and gas company in Italy, Ms. Hinnrichs said.

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Michele Hinnrichs

Harvey Goralnick