Fingerprinting Methane Emissions

As researchers across the world debate the source of recent methane concentration increases, with some indicating fugitive emissions from the fossil fuel industry are most important while others look to those from agriculture and landfills, organizations have answered the call for remote methane detection and monitoring tools to improve measurement reliability. For example, from low-Earth orbit, GMI’s longtime partner, GHGSat has been monitoring methane emissions from Canada’s tar sands, among other targeted sites, since launching its first satellite, CLAIRE, earlier this summer.

photo-bakken-nd-oil-and-gas-field
Aerial view of the Bakken Oil and Gas Field in North Dakota, U.S., one of the areas included in NOAA’s new study quantifying emissions from oil and gas operations. Credit: NOAA

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

For more information on the study, check out Scientific American’s recent article or NOAA’s recent news release on the implications of the study.

Global Methane Forum Presentation Highlights: Technology to Quantify Methane Emissions in the Oil & Gas Sector

Over the coming weeks Methane International will continue to feature presentations from the 2016 Global Methane Forum (GMF). Last week we covered the GMF’s plenary session on China’s Food Waste and Sludge Management Practices, Challenges, and Lessons Learned. Up this week, from the Oil & Gas technical session, is the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Project Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) and this program’s efforts to develop Technology to Quantify Methane Emissions.

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.


Point-Sensing Technologies 

Aeris Technologies – Miniature, High Accuracy Tunable Laser Spectrometer

aeris
Aeris Technologies’ miniature sensor is small enough to fit in the palm of a hand.

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.

Duke University – Coded Aperture Miniature Mass Spectrometer

cathode
Duke University’s coded aperture cathodes are just microns across.

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.


Distance-Sensing Technologies

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.


Aerial Technologies

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.


Imaging Technologies

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.

Enabling Technologies

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.