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.

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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.

California’s Landmark Methane Legislation

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Governor Brown giving remarks before the bill-signing in Long Beach, California. Photo credit: Joe McHugh, California Highway Patrol.

On 19 September 2016, Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation enacting new emission limits on short-lived climate pollutants, particularly methane, in the state of California. This historic legislation is globally relevant as it limits methane emissions from the most populous U.S. state and one of the largest economies in the world. California emits roughly 40 MMTCO2e each year, of which 21% comes from landfills and more than half comes from its impressive agriculture sector (source: California Air Resources Board).

 

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Breakdown of 2014 methane emissions in the state of California, by sector. Source: California Air Resources Board (CARB)

The new law calls for a statewide reduction of methane emissions by 40% below 2013 levels by 2030. In addition to the statewide reduction of total emissions, the legislation further specifies a steep reduction in organic waste disposal in state landfills (up to a 75% reduction below 2014 disposal levels by 2025) and 40% reduction from 2013 levels of methane emissions from the state’s dairy and livestock sectors by 2030.

The rules lay out strategies to limit emissions, including a suite of new methane capture and re-use programs tied to more than $90 million in funding. Most of that funding – $50 million from the state’s pre-existing Cap-and-Trade program – is to be directed to help the dairy industry offset the cost of new digester equipment that will be used to control methane emissions.

In addition to direct funding, the new laws include strategies to “identify and address technical, market, regulatory, and other challenges and barriers” to biomethane projects. This includes helping to develop five new pilot projects, establishing new energy infrastructure development and procurement policies (including a biomethane pipeline system), and a pilot financial mechanism “to reduce the economic uncertainty associated with the value of environmental credits.”

The law also calls for a 50% increase in composting in the next four years in order to support the new organic waste stream reductions, and lays out a provisional mechanism to provide financial incentives for the deployment of technology to reduce enteric methane emissions – that is, those from gaseous bovine expulsions – should that technology become both cost-effective and “scientifically proven.”

Methane Gains Traction While New Study Provokes Debate

It’s been quite a busy week for methane – in the past few days the U.S. EPA’s new methane regulations were discussed in the U.S. Congress and the Governor of California signed new legislation to dramatically limit greenhouse gas emissions, particularly methane, in his state.

We’ll have more on the California legislation for you next week! In the meantime, with all that as a back-drop, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences just published a new study which argues that fugitive emissions from fossil fuel activities may be driving recent increases in atmospheric methane concentrations. Previous studies, however, have pointed that finger at agriculture and landfills.

For the full scoop, check out this great Scientific American article.

Methane from Space, and Happy Birthday to MI!

Happy 1st Anniversary to the Methane International blog, which premiered on July 20, 2015! We hope you have found this format to be useful in learning about the latest GMI, methane, and climate news. The invitation from our first post still stands – please feel free to submit entries with our MI Article Submission Form!

This week we’d like to feature work from our American partner National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Earth Observatory blog. In March, they published a fantastic post chock full of charts and graphs on why methane matters and scientists’ work to quantify the effects of methane emissions. The March post features:

We especially enjoyed the handy charts and graphs, such as this useful graph with projections:

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(credit: NASA)

In a follow-up post this month, NASA rounded up the results of current methane studies. This post explains the following in plain language:

  • Why the agricultural sector (rice and livestock production) is likely the culprit of recent methane concentration increases;
  • How the U.S. has played an outsized role in global methane emissions increases; and
  • The role of satellites in the future of quantifying methane emissions.

We hope you will continue to return to the Methane International Blog as your one-stop shop on all methane news and global emission reduction activities!

 

Win a Scholarship to 2017 ISWA-SWIS Winter School

iswa-headerAlthough it’s high summer here in the Northern Hemisphere, the Global Methane Initiative is already glancing ahead to the 2017 ISWA-SWIS Winter School. The International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) will hold the conference on 16-27 January 2017, at the University of Texas at Arlington’s (UTA’s) Solid Waste Institute for Sustainability (SWIS). GMI has become an annual participant at the conference – last year, GMI’s own Tom Frankiewicz served as a presenter on the “Global Waste Management Perspective” panel discussion.

swis-logoThis year, SWIS is offering a chance to win a full scholarship to the Winter School through a sustainable waste management essay competition. Students and professionals from around the world are invited to write an essay on a specific aspect of solid waste management in their respective countries. The authors of the best essays will be awarded scholarships to attend the Winter School. Scholarships cover the following:

  • Free registration to the 2017 ISWA-SWIS Winter School at UTA
  • Lodging and transportation during their stay for the Winter School
  • Free air round-trip ticket from country of residence to DFW Airport, Dallas, Texas will be provided to a limited number of applicants

The deadline to apply for a Winter School scholarship is 15 September 2016 (Texas local time). Additional submission guidelines and rules are on ISWA’s website.

For more information about the Winter School itself, you can download the ISWA-SWIS brochure or check out the conference on ISWA’s Calendar of Events.

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May News Round-Up

A mish-mash of methane news this May!

First, a little self-promotion: our own Felicia Ruiz and Raymond C. Pilcher (Raven Ridge) penned a piece on coal bed methane and coal mine methane development in Mongolia for World Coal. Check it out!

There was a lot of attention on cows this month – specifically on their belches, flatulence, and manure that are key sources of methane emissions. We here at GMI advocate capturing the methane from cow manure through anaerobic digestion to use as biogas, but an entrepreneurial Italian took our advice a step further – to use the remaining de-methanated concoction as a raw material to make plaster, bricks and other objects known as merdacotta, or literally, ‘baked poop.’. Meanwhile, scientists in other parts of the world are attempting to tackle methane emissions that result from enteric fermentation, from feeding the cows hops or a compound called 3-nitrooxypropanol to reduce methane emissions from digestion. Indians are taking a different approach by studying miniature Vechur cows for their dairy production needs that release only 10% the level of methane emissions of a normal-sized cow.

The United States made a big announcement: new regulations that will target emissions from new or modified oil and gas wells. The New Republic and Washington Post followed up with analytical think pieces on the importance of methane mitigation and why the impact of methane emissions can be confusing. Vox published an explainer that describes the new U.S. regulations within the larger context of U.S. climate pledges.

Finally, two methane mentions this month outside our usual spectrum: 1) Swedish researchers are developing clothes that would be able to absorb methane from the ambient atmosphere, and 2) Rwanda inaugurated a power plant that uses a natural methane emissions source found in its Lake Kivu.

…Until June!

P.S. If you didn’t see it, the Climate Lab Book created a compellingspiral2016-2 infographic that shows global temperature change since 1850. Worth keeping!

 

May Methane News Round-Up

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

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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

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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.