New Opportunities in Radiation Detection Equipment Materials Markets

Since n-tech Research published its previous report, our research indicates that new opportunities are appearing in both the radiation detection equipment market and the related materials market.

New Opportunities in the Radiation Materials Market

Sodium iodide (NaI) detectors continue to be dominant. Improvements on the NaI theme including such things as polycrystalline NaI(TI) structures. n-tech also anticipates that new materials will replace NaI where materials can specifically address the shortcomings of Nal. The LBNL scintillator website lists over 564 possible materials.

In addition to the materials mentioned below, there is research underway on Zinc Sulfide, noble gases, “organic glass” (PMMA), Cadmium Selenide and a broad range of ceramic, nanomaterials and semiconductors.

Cesium Iodide: CsI, doped with either thallium or sodium, was the first material to take market share away from NaI. It has higher density than NaI, is one of the brightest scintillators available, is less hygroscopic than NaI and less susceptible to cracking.  There is potential for selling CsI into the low-end digital X-ray imaging market. n-tech forecasts suggest that CsI revenues for radiation detection will reach over $416 million in 2026.

CLYC: This material became commercially available in 2013 and provides an alternative to both medium resolution gamma-ray detectors and Helium-3, and can be used to detect both gamma and neutron radiation. Therefore, a single detector can be used instead of two different detectors.  CLYC and related materials is expected to achieve revenues of $185 million by 2026.

HPGe: This is a favorite material in scientific research and detection of gamma emission. HPGe radiation detectors are available for various applications in both small sized and large area radiation detection, including sea or airborne surveillance, small environmental samples, lung monitoring, waste assay, freight detection and in border security. However, the cost of using HPGe is high.

Rare earths:  Several rare earth materials are being explored as scintillators.  Perhaps the most promising is lanthanum bromide (LaBr3) which can offer improved resolution compared to NaI(Tl).  However, LaBr3 is considerably more expensive than NaI. Cerium-doped lutetium silicate (Lu2SiO5) is another rare earth orthosilicate scintillation material that is currently used.  LaCl3 is also used as a detector. Lanthanum-based detectors are commonly found in military applications and are expected by $367 million in revenue by 2026

Silicates: Cerium-doped LYSO is currently used in commercial applications, particularly PET scanners. Hilger Crystals is seeing high demand for LYSO. Meanwhile, Yttrium silicate (Y2SiO5 is being considered for similar applications. Bismuth silicate (Bi4Si3O12) is another possible substitute for BGO.  This class of detectors is expected to generate $350 million in 2026.

Tellurides: Several companies are working to commercialize CZT as a radiation detection material. Meanwhile, CdTe has been investigated as a room temperature gamma ray detection material and is in commercial production.

Boron: Elemental boron is a compelling material for neutron detection since it is nontoxic. Boron-10 (10B), the boron isotope used for detection, is readily available and inexpensive. Boron-based detectors can also be manufactured as direct drop-in replacements to existing 3He detectors.

Lithium-based materials:  Scintillators containing 6Li have been used for some time for neutron detection. Several new concepts for lithium-based detectors are in the works that promise to alleviate some of the concerns surrounding existing technologies.

Plastic scintillators:  Plastic scintillators can be used in many different applications with all the advantages that plastics can bring with them.  Plastic scintillators can detect fast neutrons, alpha, beta and gamma rays and nuclear substances such as plutonium and uranium.

Plastic scintillators are prone to aging due to exposure to high temperatures, rough handling and mechanical flexing, and exposure to solvent vapors.  Overall, plastic detection materials will exhibit strong growth, from over $141 million in 2016 to about $410 million by 2026.

Medical Applications for Radiation Detection Equipment

Several factors are driving the market for medical radiation detection equipment. Populations are getting older and regulations are increasingly limiting the amount of radiation that patients can be exposed to.  Hence, there is a need for more radiation equipment in hospitals. However, working against this trend is that medical imaging technologists are trying to reduce doses, especially in the case of CT scans.

Although such concerns are the primary driver for medical radiation detection, various studies show excellent results treating tumors with high levels of radiation over a short period, meaning more radiation detection gear is required.  The medical market for radiation detection is huge—over $20 billion at the present time according to n-tech’s estimates.

Security Applications for Radiation Detection Equipment

Radiation detection is becoming more important for ensuring national security and in the military. Military, police and first responders are using mobile and portable detectors in smaller form factors.  Handheld radiation detection allows users to transmit data via a smart phone to experts who can help with radioactivity. More systems are also networked.  Combined, military and domestic security applications for medical radiation equipment may reach about $1.5 billion by 2022.

Military: In the military, there is a demand for a wide range of equipment, from personal monitors worn by soldiers to large-scale equipment that can detect airborne threats. There is a trend towards more portable radiation detection, which can be critical in the military since it is easy to identify potential threats if all personnel have radiation detection equipment at their disposal. The portable equipment in demand for the military includes RIIDs, PRDs, SPRDs, backpack-based systems, and mobile/deployable radiation portal monitors. CIR also anticipates growth for full-sized air sampling systems, aircraft-based systems and radiation-detecting robots.

Domestic security:  With terrorist threats on the rise there is growing concern in many countries about the possibility of nuclear terrorism.  This gives rise to a market for radiation scanners in airports and for cargo inspection.  Also needed are radiation detection portals that scan vehicles and railway cars.  CIR believes that this part of the radiation detection market will increasingly serve the anticipated needs of first responders.

Energy Industry Applications

Nuclear power: The need for radiation detection existing and new nuclear power plants will accelerate as existing plants step up monitoring and new plants build extensive radiation safety controls into designs. Even relatively minor incidents are causes for concern. Safety concerns that limit expansion of nuclear power are good news for radiation detection markets.

In the nuclear sector demand will remain strong for the following types of instruments: dosimeters for consumers living near the nuclear power facilities and for workers at nuclear facilities, also contamination probes and friskers, radiation portal monitoring and area and process monitors.  CIR also sees the need for improved radiation detection gear for the plant itself.

Oil and mining industries:  Radiotracers and nucleonic gauges are increasingly being used by the oil, mining, metallurgy and mineral processing industries for in both exploration and extraction of natural resources. This is a sector that especially requires rugged systems. In this sector there is a need for more sensitive detectors, portable analysis systems, and nuclear control systems.

Other Applications

Food irradiation: Food irradiation will increase worldwide over the coming decade, because of the growing number of countries in which it is finding acceptance both at regulatory and consumer levels.  Also driving the market is globalization of the food supply and concerns about bacterial pathogens.

Scrap metal recycling: Radioactive contamination of recycled steel is a serious problem, and is becoming more important as the volume of recycled metal increases due to more recycling of steel and nonferrous metals.  In terms of revenues this is one of the largest segments of the radiation detection market with revenues expected to reach more than $790 million in 2022

Industrial radiography: Industrial X-ray inspection includes both digital radiography (DR) and computed tomography (CT). CT is increasingly being used for metrology, for the latest generation of machines has sufficient resolution.  n-tech believes this is a huge market that is quickly headed to the $3 billion range

High-energy physics and laboratories: Scientific laboratories use radiation detectors for a variety of research needs in support of basic and applied research.