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BAH Aims High, Again, With ‘Smart’ Gas-Leak Sensors

Smarter than they look: BAH Holdings' tiny, ultra-low-power "smart" sensors can remotely detect methane leaks for more than 10 years, according to company specs.

Source: InnovateLI

A Stony Brook-based R&D enterprise that’s already scored one of its niche industry’s biggest successes may be on the verge of large-scale greatness, once again.

Packing a unique “optical physics” technology, BAH Holdings – which launched in 2005 with lofty gas leak-detection ambitions – has shipped several “smart,” ultra-low-power gas-detection units to New York City-based utility Con Edison for testing, with hundreds of thousands of potential units in play.

As of 2021, the company is leveraging its decade-plus of success inside Stony Brook University’s Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center. The company’s arrival at the thriving clean-energy mecca extended a fruitful relationship between BAH and the university, including long collaborations with Stony Brook’s Center for Advanced Technology in Diagnostic Tools and Sensor Systems and College of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

The company, bristling with opto-electronic sensors and polarization spectroscopy, had long sought an AERTC residency, but it wasn’t until last year that the Advanced Energy Center was able to carve out the right space for the next-level innovator.

“We’ve been looking for space ever since we left SensorCAT,” noted BAH Holdings Managing Member Charles Scolaro, who said the 17-year-old company – which he joined shortly after its 2005 launch – fits right in with the AERTC’s early-stage energizers.

Charles Scolaro: You can go home again.

“I feel like we’re still in the startup phase,” Scolaro added.

That’s not surprising for a company that created and licensed one of its market’s most successful products just months after launching, and has been steadily innovating ever since.

Initial success came in the form of a handheld methane-leak detector that operated on “optical physics” – Scolaro’s words – engineered by the company’s principal scientist, Michael Tkachuk. The “correlation interference polarization spectroscopy” science, in a nutshell: Different gases have different talents for absorbing different light waves. If Light Wavelength X is blocked, Gas Y is present; how much of the light is blocked can determine how much of the gas is present.

BAH Holdings launched its first subsidiary, CIPS Technology (for “correlation interference,” etc.), in 2005 in response to a request by Con Edison, which was interested in handheld devices leveraging CIPS principles. In mere months, the startup delivered 20 prototype units to the large utility, and “they were impressed,” according to Scolaro.

“They went to a supplier and told them they should talk to us,” the managing director noted. “We wound up licensing the technology to [the supplier].”

Today, that supplier – Houston-based Heath Consultants – is the nation’s largest distributor of handheld leak-detection devices. And BAH Holdings keeps on keeping on: In 2015, the company acquired early-stage, Stony Brook-based Power Photonic Corp., adding narrow-band semiconductor synthesis to its core competencies.

That old chestnut: A simple matter of the periodical structure of absorption spectra in simple molecules.

Bolstered by the acquisition, BAH Holdings has spent the last several years cultivating new targets for its advanced optical physics. Now, with its own climate-controlled laboratory and other programmatic and networking resources provided by the AERTC, the company is working to miniaturize its gas-detection technology.

It’s also catching up with other old friends, including Con Ed. In the aftermath of the tragic January fire that claimed 19 lives in a Bronx apartment building, the utility has been busily installing “smart” gas detectors throughout the region – and “we were fortunate to get an order from them,” Scolaro noted.

BAH Holdings has shipped 10 prototype “smart” units – utilizing patented non-dispersive infrared technology that ensures ultra-low power consumption and a 10-year-plus lifetime – for testing in Con Edison employee homes. The company is “hoping to respond with a larger order” soon, according to Scolaro, who suggested 200,000 units might not be out of the question.

“That would really put us on the map,” the managing member said. “(But) manufacturing is a whole other question.

“We’d definitely like to license that technology to someone else.”