The Case for X-ray Diffraction

One of aviation security’s most important and longstanding challenges continues to be the detection of liquid explosives at high-volume aviation checkpoints. (All Morpho Detection)

Morpho Detection’s Global Technology Leader, John C ‘Jay’ Hill, and Global Product Management Leader, Darryl Jones, say that X-ray diffraction is a better solution for the challenge of screening liquids.

One of aviation security’s most important and longstanding challenges continues to be the detection of liquid explosives at high-volume aviation checkpoints. (All Morpho Detection)

Security experts the world over agree: terrorists are adaptable and, often, unpredictable.
Terrorist tactics for causing physical damage and loss of life are constantly evolving in the face of reactive and proactive security measures and will inevitably seek out the chinks in our defensive ‘armour’ that are easiest to exploit.  As one gap closes, others become more attractive to those with malicious intent.
We recently witnessed this type of chilling adaptability in the attempts to smuggle sophisticated homemade bombs through the international air-cargo system; bombs originating in Yemen and ostensibly bound for places of worship in Chicago.
As the threat continues its inevitable evolution, the aviation security industry is looking for more and better solutions to strengthen and integrate the detection of explosives at checkpoints and screening facilities of all kinds.
One important and longstanding challenge continues to be the detection of liquid explosives at high-volume aviation checkpoints.  Product development and technology teams at Morpho Detection are hard at work on a next-generation solution that should not only effectively detect liquid explosives, but also accurately identify them – while they remain in passengers’ bags.
Regulatory Drivers for Liquid Detection Technology at the Checkpoint
The United States and the European Union are two major regions leading the adoption of aviation technology worldwide.  This adoption is largely based on regulatory requirements resulting from a combination of terrorist events, public outcry, government deliberation and available funding.
The debate over priorities and appropriate technologies at the aviation checkpoint differs in the two markets, but in both, checkpoint technology receives particular scrutiny because it directly affects the travel experience of millions of people and visually represents, to many, what government can or should do to combat terrorism in the air.
Based on government mandates as well as the most recent wave of new technology adoption, it seems clear that Europe will lead in fielding technologies to solve the seemingly intractable problem of liquid explosives detection – a problem that has been cited as costing the United Kingdom alone some £16 million (US$19m) for annual enforcement.
In March 2010, a European Union (EU) regulation stipulated liquids screening at European checkpoints by well-established technologies: X-ray, explosives detection system1 or trace detection, chemical reaction test strips and/or specialized bottle scanners2, in conjunction with a liquid ban3 on transport for most liquids in amounts over 100 ml.
In addition to the classification of the various screening modes in four types (Types A, B, C and D), the European Civil Aviation Conference has also recently established testing protocols for two levels of detection standards. The new Standards 1 and 2 are progressively more sophisticated and demanding both in terms of probability of detection and acceptable false alarm rates.
As of 2014, any liquid detection technology deployed in EU airports must meet Standard 1 performance thresholds.  Starting in 2016, Standard 2 performance will be required.
In short, although there is flexibility in the four types of detection, the adoption of Standards 1 and 2 creates an incentive for EU member countries to procure only high performing systems (such as XDi) that will be able to meet Standard 2 requirements by 2016.
The Case for X-ray Diffraction at the Checkpoint:
Type D Liquids Detection
Current X-ray imaging technology at the checkpoint requires liquids to be removed from cabin or carry-on baggage in order to be properly analyzed and identified (Type C system or X-ray in combination with other technologies, eg, Type B ‘bottle scanners’).
X-ray Diffraction technology allows liquids to remain in their containers and inside the scanned bag while still accomplishing an accurate detection, analysis and identification (Type D system).
X-ray Diffraction differentiates between compounds by using radial distribution functions and molecular interference function algorithms to identify discrete molecular signatures in liquids.  This is analogous to the benefit that colour information brings relative to black and white images.
The spectral XRD technique allows a much better differentiation between substances than conventional transmission radiography.  When combined with a high-quality X-ray source to generate bag images, the system is expected to equal the image quality of incumbent dual or multi-view technologies and to well outperform those technologies in terms of liquid detection and identification.
Timing – A Phased Approach to LAGs Detection
According to published regulations, the change in Liquids, Aerosols and Gels (LAGs) screening policy in the EU will occur in a phased way. Beginning in 2011, the change will go into effect for transfer passengers only; by 2013 it will apply to all passengers travelling through EU airports capable of screening for liquid explosive threats (see Table 1 and Figure 1).
It’s expected this updated EU policy will encourage new technology acquisition by member countries.
As a result, MDI’s development of next-generation imaging at the checkpoint will focus on meeting EU requirements and timetables, capitalizing on MDI’s liquid identification capabilities with X-ray Diffraction technology, while continuing to work with US regulators to familiarize them with XDi and gain acceptance for future TSA pilots and full-rate adoption in the US at a later point in time.
Planning for Tomorrow’s Type D Checkpoint Solution

Morpho’s Global Product Management Leader, Darryl Jones.

Technology innovation and adoption at aviation checkpoints will continue to be shaped by many factors, as has been made clear by recent attempted terrorist attacks, government spending, and intense public debate.
As the technology continues to develop, it is critical regulators and security operators place the right bets for far-reaching solutions that will maintain or increase levels of detection, streamline operations, and minimize operational costs at airports.
MDI’s XDi X-ray Diffraction solution has the potential to do all three, first in Europe and later, with appropriate regulatory acceptance, in the U.S. and beyond.
Morpho Detection’s Global Technology Leader, John C ‘Jay’ Hill.

1.  In the US Explosives Detection Systems (EDS) refers to TSA-certified systems for hold baggage, currently limited to Computed Tomography (CT) machines. In the EU any system, which can detect explosives is referred to as an EDS.
2.  European Commission regulation 185/2010.
3.  Effective since 2006 resulting from EU directive 1546/2006.