SPARKS, Nev. — Since spinning out of the University of Nevada, Reno as a startup in 2004, NevadaNano has come a long way.
The Sparks-based tech firm, which develops digital-based vapor detection sensors, has raised nearly $29 million in funding, been granted more than two dozen patents, and two years ago brought its product to market.
What’s more, the firm recently secured a “flagship” account with Canada-based Blackline Safety, said Bob Christensen, senior director of business development at NevadaNano.
The partnership will “modernize combustible gas detection systems in a range of industries, ensuring the safety of workers,” NevadaNano announced in a late June press release.
NevadaNano’s sensors let users know if they are approaching what’s called an “LEL” — lower explosive limit — level of the 12 most common flammable gases, such as methane, propane and hydrogen.
“We brought to the market a disruptive sensor that’s higher performing and a better total cost of ownership equation,” Christensen told the NNBW. “They (at Blackline Safety) were very receptive to jumping on it as quickly as they could.”
Meaning, NevadaNano’s small sensors — about the size of dice — will be embedded into Blackline’s cloud-connected G7 safety monitors, which industrial workers wear on their chest or hip, Christensen said.
“It warns the worker that they are in a harmful situation or approaching a harmful situation,” he explained. “What’s unique about our MPS is we can see 12 gases at the same time. We’ll let the workers know they’re in an explosive situation versus our competitors who are just going to be accurate to one single gas that it’s tuned for.
“You can make the argument we’re saving lives. And, because we’re more accurate, we also save money.”
To the latter point, Christensen said detectors tuned to only one specific gas could produce false-positive alarms if a different gas at a small level is present. In those cases, he said, the standard procedure for a jobsite is to evacuate, shut down and investigate the area.
“Those are called ‘nuance alarms.’ That costs the company money; it costs productivity,” he said. “And it also becomes a safety issue in itself, because the worker at some point doesn’t trust the device any more and either turns it off or doesn’t trust he’s actually in a harmful situation because it false-alarms all the time.”
FACTORING IN COVID-19
Christensen said NevadaNano’s sensor technology is even more relevant now in the coronavirus era, when more companies are operating with fewer workers on jobsites. After all, amid the COVID -19 pandemic, corporations have to follow social distancing guidelines and, in some cases, they are thinning staff to counter revenue impacts.
Consequently, for many industrial companies, lone workers — those operating out of sight or sound of other employees or supervisors — are likely going to become more common.
“Having lone workers have enhanced safety is important because that person might be by themselves on a mine or an oil field,” Christensen said. “If something does happen to them and they’re rendered unconscious, someone else is alerted and they can direct help to that person.”
Further, NevadaNano’s sensors are adaptable to “rapidly changing environments” that are prone to cause false alarms, noted Christensen, who offered an example: “Humidity is especially tough because it looks like a gas as it changes form low to high or high to low. We’ve done a lot of work on still being accurate in those challenging environments.”
MEETING MARKET NEEDS
According to the company, NevadaNano’s technology is the first new approach to flammable gas detection in over 40 years.
Along with its flammable gas sensor, the company offers three other commercialized products: a methane gas sensor designed to find leaks at oil and gas facilities; a refrigerant gas sensor to detect leaks in HVAC units; and an indoor air quality sensor that notifies homeowners of hazardous situations — from formaldehyde to “pre-fire” vapors.
“We use software to tune the sensor to different gases or go after different markets and environments,” said Christensen, who credited NevadaNano’s evolution into the commercial market to its engineers, many of which emerged from UNR’s engineering department. “As other opportunities emerged, we’re able to adapt the sensor and develop new products to meet new market needs.”
‘HOCKEY STICK’ REVENUE GROWTH
What’s more, the pandemic has not slowed down the 30-employee company’s growth. In fact, Christensen said NevadaNano’s revenue grew five times from Q1 to Q2 this year.
“When they talk about ‘hockey stick-level’ growth, we’re at the hockey stick right now,” said Christensen, who declined to provide NNBW with specific figures.
He added that the Blackline Safety partnership has fueled increased interest in the industrial safety market.
“There’s a lot of skepticism in that market, and to have that ‘flag on the beach’ has really picked up activity,” he continued. “We’re chasing and getting inquiries at a volume that I would say is four times than what we got before.”
With that in mind, NevadaNano is actively recruiting sales and marketing and operations staff in efforts to expand its capabilities “as fast as we can,” Christensen said.