Earlier this year, a team led by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has debuted a method to monitor and fingerprint methane emissions on a larger scale. Collecting samples from a small twin-propeller aircraft, the team uses the light hydrocarbon ethane as a tracer for methane emitted from oil and gas reservoirs as opposed to methane emitted from biological sources. By reviewing variations in ethane concentrations over time, the research team hopes to show how changes in human activities – for example, increases in natural gas production from hydraulic fracturing (fracking) – have altered methane concentrations and worldwide greenhouse gas loading. Researchers
Dr. Bryan Willson, Program Manager for ARPA-E’s Methane Observation Network Technology to Obtain Reductions (MONITOR) Program highlighted ongoing projects working to provide cutting edge leak detection technologies to not only cost effectively locate leaks, but also quantify leaks. Dr. Willson’s presentation highlighted 11 ongoing projects that received awards from ARPA-E: six fixed systems, four mobile systems, and one enabling system. The technologies roughly break down into four categories: Point-Sensing, Aerial, Imaging, and Enabling Technologies. Below is a brief introduction and links for more information.
Partners: Los Alamos National Laboratory, Rice University
Aeris’ Laser Spectrometer is sensitive to leaks smaller than one part per billion per second, exceeding detection limits of similar technologies.
LI-COR – Laser Spectroscopic Point Sensor Partners: Colorado State University, Gener8
LI-COR’s Laser Spectroscopic Point Sensor is suitable for continuous or intermittent monitoring and has both stationary and mobile applications.
IBM – Low-Cost On-Chip Optical Sensor Partners: Princeton University, Harvard University, Southwestern Energy
IBM’s sensor system communicates in real time with weather information and other cloud-based data to analyze, detect, and localize leaks.
Partners: RTI International
The mobile miniature mass spectrometer features field emission cathodes just a few microns across. The microfabricated, coded apertures contain advanced search/location algorithms for optimum sampling. It can detect methane as well as volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
PARC (a Xerox Company) – Printed Carbon Nanotube Sensors Partners: US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and British Petroleum (BP)
PARC’s Printed Carbon Nanotube Sensors are easy to scale up while still being low-cost (less than $350 per year per site), and can detect leaks at one part per million within a meter.
University of Colorado (Boulder) – Frequency Comb-based Methane Sensing Partners: US National Institute for Standards and Tracking (NIST), US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
The novel design is simplified to reduce the cost of dual comb spectroscopy.
General Electric (GE) – Microstructured Optical Fiber Partners: Virginia Polytechnic University (Virginia Tech)
GE’s optical fiber methane sensors have broad applications throughout the oil and gas industry, especially for larger-scale infrastructure.
Physical Sciences, Inc. (PSI) – UAV-based Laser Spectroscopy Partners: Health Consultants, ThorLabs, Princeton University, the University of Houston, Cascodium
Mounted on an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), the device can operate in two modes: continuous monitoring to detect/quantify leaks with alarm notification and an active search to pinpoint them.
Bridger Photonics, Inc. – Mobile LiDAR Sensors
The drone-mounted LiDAR rapidly produces three-dimensional topographic maps and detect leaks at rates as low as one gram per minute.
Rebellion Photonics – Portable Imaging Spectrometer
A miniature version of Rebellion’s Gas Cloud Imager (GCI), the long-wave camera is the size of soda can and can be incorporated into personal protective equipment.
ThorLabs – Tunable Mid-infrared Laser Partners: Praevium Research, Rice University
The innovative mid-IR laser is applicable not only for methane detection but across many applications at a fraction of the cost of similar laser sensors.
All of the ARPA-E projects will be field-testing these incredible new technologies between now and 2018, and you can keep track of each project’s progress at arpa-e.energy.gov! You can find Dr. Willson’s presentation as well as other presentations from the Global Methane Forum at globalmethane.org/forum/presentations.html.
January’s news coverage on methane was dominated by California’s massive methane leak. Let’s skip that for now and begin with some good news: it turns out that methane emissions from Australian cows were drastically overestimated. In lieu of cheers, let’s just say a collective MOO to that.
In other news, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced a new draft rule that would require oil and gas companies to capture leaked methane rather than flare it. Perhaps another MOO is in order?
Now for the bigger and more depressing news: methane is still spewing out of the Aliso Canyon, California, storage site. Even though the leak is slowing, it is unfortunately very difficult to fix and likely won’t be fixed until at least March. In response to the leak, some have questioned whether better technology could be developed to detect/prevent leaks? Hopefully March will bring better news on this topic. In the meantime, we encourage you to check out Carbon Visual’s interactive animation on the leak to help visualize and bring insight to the rate at which methane is being released.