2012 EMA Cup Winner for Technological Innovation

EMA of BC Award for Technological Innovation

Awarded to: Exova Canada Inc.

Environmental Manager: Chris Swyngedouw, Group Technology Leader – Chemistry, Exova

Project Title: Ultraviolet Fluorescence of Heavy Petroleum Hydrocarbons

How Ultraviolet Fluorescence Technology Benefits Screening for Hydrocarbons
Traditional site characterization is an expensive and time consuming process, often involving an iterative procedure of field sampling and laboratory analysis cycles. One inherent difficulty has been the lack of any quick and effective screening technique for heavy-end hydrocarbons – one of the main target parameters for oil and gas sites, along with salts and volatile petroleum hydrocarbons (PHCs). That stumbling block has now been removed thanks to an innovative collaboration between Exova and Matrix Solutions Inc. of Canada.

 Current decision-making aides for screening heavy hydrocarbons have some obvious drawbacks. Visual observations may be helpful where high concentrations are evident, but are less reliable where these petroleum hydrocarbons are old and weathered. Odour-based detection may also be used, however field personnel can soon become desensitized, and the smelling of samples is discouraged from a health and safety perspective. A third possible screening tool, Gas Tech, is only effective for light-end petroleum hydrocarbons. The challenge is compounded by the fact that time constraints often demand real-time decisions.

 Exova and Matrix Solutions have now created a new tool which can be used to detect heavy hydrocarbons and assist on-the-spot decision-making. The tool utilizes the fluorescing qualities of petroleum hydrocarbons. While this in itself is not a new discovery, this ultraviolet fluorescence (UVF) application offers a much more convenient and efficient approach. It is also portable, affordable, and fast and simple to operate. Although UVF is not a universal screening tool, it has proved to be a useful indicator for field screening soil samples and locating free petroleum, as well as significantly improving its delineation, remediation, and excavation.

Decision Tree


This versatile field screening test has been developed to detect petroleum in soil down to the CCME F3 coarse soil criteria levels. The test rapidly screens soil samples for the presence or absence and relative concentrations (e.g. not present, low, or high) of heavy petroleum hydrocarbons and is relatively free of interferences. This field screening procedure correlates with and complements traditional off-site laboratory techniques.

UV Fluorescence

Extremely simple to use, the field screening procedure requires little or no pre-treatment, with the ability to process about 12–15 samples within an hour. Field screening observations can be used to select a subset of samples, perhaps 30%, for laboratory testing. Laboratory GC analysis can then verify and confirm the PHC type these samples contain, ensuring that smarter sample selection leads to a more meaningful data set.

 Exova’s collaboration with Matrix Solutions Inc. has been enabled through its Technology Transfer Group, which exists to ensure new technology or test protocols can be quickly implemented, and is part of its continual drive for innovation.

 Benefits of UVF

  • Quicker
  • Portable
  • Affordable
  • Simple to operate
  • Saves costs and time

Applications of UVF

  • Field screening for PHCs
  • Locating free petroleum
  • Delineating extent of petroleum contamination
  • More intelligent selection of soil samples

Chris Swyngedouw, Group Technology Leader – Chemistry, Exova, Canada
John Banks, Principal Chemist, Matrix Solutions Inc., Calgary, Canada