Radiation detection has long been established in healthcare and medical fields, and has gained prominence in the past few years in military and domestic security areas. However, several well-known and newer industrial applications represent some of the best growth and revenue opportunities for radiation detection systems, to detect and monitor radiation levels both in the environment and in or near facilities, including personnel.
Several industrial processes already regularly utilize radiation detection equipment, from measuring production lines to constantly checking personnel radiation exposures, to identify defects through non-destructive testing (NDT) methods. These sectors include energy generation, radiopharmacy, resource exploration (oil/gas and mining), and automotive & aerospace.
NanoMarkets’ latest report takes a specific look at the unique industrial usage cases for this technology, what the drivers are today, and how we see them changing over the next several years.
Macro Trends for Industrial Radiation Detection
Several trends apply across most industrial contexts of radiation detection. First and foremost is continued globalization and further industrialization in developing countries, which will only increase the need for radiation detection in the coming years.
Other trends we're watching include:
Radioactive Waste Management: With so many industries now depending on radiological materials, there is mounting concern over what to do with leftover waste radioactive materials. Various ways of storing and disposing of nuclear waste have been proposed, and all of them require radiation detection. This means not just the highly radioactive wastes derived from spent fuel elements and weapons programs, but also the wide range of low-level radioactive items contaminated with radioactivity through direct contact or exposure: protective clothing, equipment and tools, etc.
NanoMarkets emphasizes that all waste disposal sites in all countries should have radiation detectors to control possibly large amounts of radioactivity, although such detectors must separate "noise" from "signal," i.e. true radiological contamination vs. background radiation and interference.
New Designs and Materials: Radiation detectors require constant remodeling of designs to enhance their performance while catering to the new challenges posed by unidentified markets. For example, there is a consensus on the discontinuation of gamma rays used in the industrial sector owing to their higher penetrating power in metals. Neutron inspection is fast becoming an alternative methodology, alongside X-ray-based techniques. In automotive and aerospace which use NDT methods, film radiography will probably continue to be used in small firms, while the large aerospace and defense manufacturers will move to fan beam CT.
Many radiation detection devices on the market today are merely "identifiers," limited fingerprinting devices that can match spectral features to maybe three or four isotopes. Improvement to these technologies eventually will give rise to true "spectrometers" that will achieve the goal of actual portable spectroscopy. This includes exploration of new scintillating detector materials, such as NaI and 6Li, and various composite scintillating plastics. Among these, NanoMarkets foresees considerable activity in a new scintillator, cesium lithium yttrium chloride (Cs2LiYCl6, or CLYC), which can detect both gamma rays and neutrons (especially the latter because CLYC is a solid, not a gas).
Smaller and Portable: Moreover, device characteristics are moving towards smaller systems with embedded electronics that will eventually improve the portability and handiness of devices. This key trend of smaller and lighter format detectors has evolved over the past couple of years, and is a primary market driver across all sectors using radiation detection.
NanoMarkets believes these trends are combining to result in smart detector devices where both imaging and electronics reading will be able to distinguish noise from signals, particularly for neutron detection systems where it is difficult to separate background gamma radiation from signals. We anticipate that doped inorganic scintillation materials with high emission power, apart from NaI (Tl) composition, will constitute an active area for research.
Radiation Detection Trends by Industrial Sector
Beneath those macro trends impacting radiation detection applications, here is what NanoMarkets sees happening in several highlighted industries:
Rather obviously, this sector is a major consumer of all types of radiation detection devices with widespread use in all aspects. Two trends we're watching include a growing emphasis on networked sensors (both within a plant and to compare plants of similar designs) and in more portable/handheld detection devices for both personal and environmental monitoring capabilities. There is a surge of interest in new reactor technologies, particularly small reactors, though it is unclear to what extent this significantly changes needs for radiation detection, much less whether such plants will arrive in operation anytime in the next decade or even longer.
National policies continue to be in flux since the 2011 Fukushima disaster. Germany has struggled with its energy policies, including its pledge to phase-out nuclear and pursue coal and heavier renewables mix. China and India are strongly pursuing nuclear power, particularly newer SMR reactor designs. Even Japan desperately wants to get some of its nuclear reactors back online, as its reliance on imported oil and gas for power generation has only gotten worse without domestic nuclear. (The latest reports suggest Japan's revision of 2030 power generation targets might include 15%-20% nuclear, about half what it was pre-Fukushima.)
Nevertheless, despite shifting political support, and the persistent challenges in developing nuclear plants in reasonable timeframes and budgets, NanoMarkets expects this to be a fairly fast growing sector driven by both heightened safety concerns and new technology development.
The pharmaceutical industry is a major user of a broad range of radiation detectors, especially for drug designing. Specific uses for radio detectors in pharma include: ensuring safety of pharmaceutical workers in close proximity to radioactive materials; tracing materials in ‘in-vivo' studies and other trials; researching mechanisms of drug action and localization; and radioactive assays done outside body or ‘in-vitro' diagnostics (IVDs).
Radiolabeling/radioisotoping has become widely adopted for evaluation of drug discovery and delivery patterns -- the vast majority of FDA-approved drugs have utilized them in testing. Unlike other imaging modalities such as computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and ultrasonography, nuclear medicine is capable of giving information on physiological functioning and metabolic processes of drugs as well as organ function and dysfunction. Additionally, there is significant demand for novel, efficient, tailor-made agents.
Science & Medical Laboratories
This is by far the fastest growing segment of the radiation detection market. Dedicated research laboratories have substantial requirements for all types of radiation detectors and materials for functioning processes and observations targeting a myriad of applications, from "Big Physics" projects to medical and academic lab operations. Often these are customized, non-commercial detector set-ups designed to facilitate only a certain kind of specific analysis -- and in most cases the cost of a detection system is not an issue.
Oil/Gas and Mining
Radiation detectors already form an integral part of the overall processes of the oil, gas and mining industries. Examples range from checking the flow of oil in sealed engines to mapping geological and geophysical areas for potential reservoirs, to identify and record formations deep within boreholes and wells.
NanoMarkets believes increasing demand for energy resources and depleting energy reserves will continue to drive demand for radiation detection equipment in these sectors. Ruggedized in-situ detectors (gamma and neutron logging devices) will continue to gain due to affordability, product customizations, and greater suitability for drilling services. Studies are ongoing to determine the extent of radiation waste from hydraulic fracking, but this likely will continue to be an area requiring significant radiation detection, and proper identification and disposal of radioactive waste items (as described above).
Various "decayed sources" can be lost, stolen, or misplaced, and ultimately find their way to the scrapyard where they may be inadvertently blended with and contaminate recycled metal. Economic and financial consequences can be high, from site closure and clean-up to broader implications damaging faith in use of recycled metal. Thus, radiation monitoring systems are being increasingly employed at scrap yards to detect any radiation sources reaching the sites.
Thus, radiation dump zones are heavily guarded and their requirements for measuring radiation levels turn them into a niche but strong market for radiation detectors, and we expect this trend to continue. Portal gates (including grapple-mounted detectors), area monitors, and handheld dosimeters will continue to have substantial use.
The food industry is opening up as a market for radiation detectors in a big way. With food irradiation gaining acceptance as a sterilizing method across the globe, the use of detectors is becoming crucial. Two distinct applications of radiation detectors in food irradiation are food quality testing, particularly packaged and processed materials, and monitoring workers and the environment inside the sterilizing chambers.
NanoMarkets believes that radiation detectors will have a substantial market in this sector, and there are few highly-specific products offered today. However, this market also is (1) highly subject to consumer perceptions of radiation, and (2) in many cases heavily regulated by authorities.
Emerging Industry Uses
Meanwhile, new niche markets for radiation detection equipment are emerging. For example, radiation, particularly gamma and X-rays, are utilized for preparing track-etched pores in different types of polymeric membranes. These membranes have very strong markets in medical science and the water purification industries. Radiation detectors are used to gauge the level of radiation needed in making the structure porous according to the requirements of the final product.