Dr. Daryoosh Saeedkia’s startup company, TeTechS Inc., is developing a novel terahertz (THz) sensor system that can identify different types of plastics. It will offer an automatic way for recycling plants to separate the dark plastics used in computers, televisions, cell phones and other electronic devices, according to Saeedkia. The system will allow selected types of recycled plastics to be sold to manufacturers — and keep the material out of landfill. That’s where much of it now ends up when people get rid of their old electronics.
“Currently, there is a mixture of plastics coming from the recycling stream. As a mixture, it has quite a low value for building new products,” Saeedkia explains. “Value is enhanced when we are able to separate the mix of plastics according to polymer type, so that the most appropriate material can be sold to a manufacturer who will use it to build a case for a computer or television set. So the value goes up and the recycling loop is closed.”
The terahertz band is the wavelength range that falls between microwave and infrared on the electromagnetic spectrum. Many materials, including different types of plastics, have spectral fingerprints in the THz range. This means that THz spectroscopy can be used to distinguish between them. “Materials exhibit unique qualities when observed in the terahertz band that one can harness to perform tasks that might not be easy or even possible to do with other technologies,” says Saeedkia.
Saeedkia founded TeTechS in 2010 and serves as its President and CEO. He is invigorated by opportunities to develop disruptive innovation using the unique properties of terahertz technology and to deliver new products to market. Based in Waterloo, the company presently has four full-time employees and is bootstrap financing this stage of operations. Previously, Saeedkia served as the chief technology officer of T-Ray Science Inc., now Verisante (VRS.VN: TSX-V), which manufactures medical devices.
Saeedkia began working on a terahertz sensor as a graduate student at the University of Waterloo, where he received his doctorate degree in 2005 and subsequently was the coordinator of the university’s Microwave and Terahertz Photonics Integrated System Lab (MISL). He says CMC Microsystems gave him a boost in the early stages of the work and helped with the fabrication requirements. “We built our very first THz chips with outstanding performance through CMC Microsystems. They helped us get going. It was a great honour and a big help. Getting recognition from institutions like CMC is confirmation that you are on track. It helps you gain confidence.” In 2008, Saeedkia won CMC’s Douglas R. Colton Medal for Research Excellence in recognition of his research on terahertz photoconductive sources, detectors and terahertz photonics devices and systems.
Terahertz sensor systems that will be deployed in an industrial setting have to be rugged. They also have to be able to do material sensing in real time. The proprietary terahertz sensor technology developed by TeTechS takes advantage of an all-optical-fiber laser light delivery system in a compact and regularized system architecture. These terahertz sensors are fabricated on a multi-quantum well InGaAs material system suitable to operate at telecommunication wavelengths.
The material system was developed through a two-year research collaboration between TeTechS and the University of Manchester, UK. The THz sensors are packaged in compact fiber pigtailed chip enclosures. A laser light is delivered to the sensors through optical fibers.
The company’s products are being developed with support from a number of federal and provincial agencies. Through discussions with several potential customers and partners in the recycling industry, Saeedkia is building interest in his company’s technology. He also sees an opportunity to market terahertz sensors to industrial research teams working in other sectors or to universities or research centres. “There are R&D groups that want to buy an off-the shelf sensor such as TeTechS is developing.”