Colombia’s stormy weather isn’t a new phenomenon – in a single month, more than 3 million lighting strikes are recorded. This represents a risk for personnel who work on electrical lines, in mines, airports, wind farms and oil fields.

In order to protect people and infrastructure located in these areas, Daniel Aranguren has created an alert system that combines lighting detection, electrostatic potential measurement and intelligent analysis. The goal of this young electrical engineer is to have a much better warning system – one that is now being employed by the country’s four main oil companies. In order to commercialize the system, Aranguren founded his own company, Keraunos.

Aranguren began constructing his electrostatic field measurement devices for detecting electrical storms in 2003 while he was study his degree at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia (UNAL) and continued developing prototypes for various research projects financed by UNAL, Codensa and the Centro de Investigación de las Telecomunicaciones. However, these attempts suffered greatly from environmental conditions. “Their reliability was minimal,” said Aranguren.

In order for these detectors to able to operate in difficult conditions, Aranguren continued to work on refining the calibration systems while continuing his studies abroad. He completed his doctorate at the Technical University of Catalonia  in Spain, where he studied thunderstorm monitoring in Europe as part of several projects with meteorological services and businesses in Spain and Germany. He also worked with NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center, which predicts storm risk to ensure launch safety. “The most valuable part of my thesis was the large number of measurements taken,” he said.

In 2011, Aranguren took the knowledge gained his investigations and founded Keraunos by marketing a system that works with innovative software which allows its computers to process the signals and make the necessary corrections when installed in mountainous terrain and other adverse environments. “The detection and prediction methods have been developed in the real-life conditions of Colombia,” he said.

The data gathered in various test carried out over five years (with 23 sensors distributed in four experimental networks in different parts of the country) helped engineers to design the electrostatic field measurement systems found in Keraunos’ PreThor and SAT warning systems. “They inform us about imminent lighting strikes around installations via SMS and e-mail which allows for preventative action to be taken,” explained Aranguren.

Besides developing PreThor and SAT, Aranguren has been behind the adoption of the LINET network which was developed in Europe by Professor Hans-Dieter Betz, of the University of Munich. This sensor system complements the measurement of electrostatic fields and permits real-time lightning monitoring to predict and calculate a storm’s arrival time.

The technology developed by this young Colombian is right now capable of reprocessing old data in order to refine future predictions, reduce false alarms and help determine when conditions will return to normal. According to Aranguren, this historical dataset is also useful for analyzing incidents on transport and energy networks and also to identify risk zones when deploying electrical lines.

According to Carlos Arturo Ávila, director of the Universidad de los Andes’s high-energy physics experiments and member of the TR35 Colombia jury, Aranguren demonstrates “a solid education” and stands out because of “his work and perseverance” improving detection instruments. Moreover, Ávila places a high value on the fact that Keraunos has already installed warning systems in various oil fields an “is in the process of expanding to other Latin American countries.”