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Methane Observation Networks with Innovative Technology to Obtain Reductions

The projects that comprise ARPA-E's Methane Observation Networks with Innovative Technology to Obtain Reductions (MONITOR) program are developing innovative technologies to cost-effectively and accurately locate and measure methane emissions associated with natural gas production. Such low-cost sensing systems are needed to reduce methane leaks anywhere from the wellpad to local distribution networks, reduce safety hazards, promote more efficient use of our domestic natural gas resources, and reduce the overall greenhouse gas (GHG) impact from natural gas development.

In order to evaluate the performance of each MONITOR technology to locate and quantify fugitive methane emissions, the MONITOR Field Test Site will develop a representative test facility that simulates real-world natural gas operations-at the wellpad and further downstream. Specifically, the MONITOR Test Site supports the operation of a multi-user field test site for MONITOR performers to validate performance under realistic use-case scenarios-and meet the MONITOR program's required metrics related to localization, quantification, communications and cost. Data generated during the field tests will demonstrate the performance capabilities of the technologies and could be used by the MONITOR performers to accelerate the commercialization and/or regulatory approval of their technologies.

For a detailed technical overview about this program, please click here.  

Aeris Technologies, Inc.

Autonomous, High Accuracy Natural Gas Leak Detection System

Aeris Technologies, Inc. (Aeris) will partner with Rice University and Los Alamos National Laboratory to develop a complete methane leak detection system that allows for highly sensitive, accurate methane detection at natural gas systems. The team will combine its novel compact spectrometer based on a mid-infrared laser, its patent-pending multi-port sampling system, and an advanced computational approach to leak quantification and localization. Their approach will use artificial neural networks and dispersion models to quantify and locate leaks with increased accuracy and reduced computational time for use in a diverse range of meteorological conditions and wellpad configurations. At each wellpad, a control unit will house the core sensor, a computing unit to process data, and wireless capability to transmit leak information to an operator, while the multi-port gas-sampling system will be distributed across the wellpad. Aeris' goal is to be able to detect and measure methane leaks smaller than 1 ton per year from a 10 meter by 10 meter site. At this level of sensitivity, which is in the ppb range, Aeris estimates that its system can facilitate a 90% reduction in fugitive methane emissions. Compared to current monitoring systems that can cost $25,000 annually, Aeris' goal is a cost of $3,000 or less a year to operate.

Bridger Photonics, Inc

Mobile LiDAR Sensor for Rapid and Sensitive Methane Leak Detection Applications

Bridger Photonics, Inc. (Bridger) plans to build a mobile methane sensing system capable of surveying a 10 meter by 10 meter well platform in just over five minutes with precision that exceeds existing technologies used for large-scale monitoring. Bridger's complete light-detection and ranging (LiDAR) remote sensing system will use a novel, near-infrared fiber laser amplifier in a system mounted on a ground vehicle or an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), which can be programmed to survey multiple wellpads a day. Data captured by the LiDAR system will provide 3-D topographic and methane absorption imagery using integrated inertial navigation and global positioning system data to show precisely where a methane leak may be occurring and at what rate. This approach will also be used to identify objects on the wellsite to better inform the search optimization. Bridger's goal is for its devices to be able to service up to 85 sites, and thus cost $1,400 to $2,220 a year to operate per wellsite. By advancing an affordable methane detection system that can both pinpoint and assess leakage quickly, Bridger's system could help companies repair methane leaks and catalyze an overall reduction in methane emissions from natural gas development.

Colorado State University

Natural Gas Emissions Test Facility for ARPA-E MONITOR Program

The team, led by Colorado State University (CSU), will develop a test site facility near Fort Collins, CO where ARPA-E can evaluate the methane sensing technologies of the MONITOR project teams, as required by the MONITOR FOA. The CSU team will design, construct, and operate a natural gas testing facility that can determine whether MONITOR technologies have met or exceeded the technical performance targets set forth by the MONITOR program. The test facility will be designed to realistically mimic the layout of a broad range of natural gas facilities and equipment. The test facility will include a number of controlled natural gas emission release points that will be realistic in terms of location, magnitude, frequency, duration, and gas composition. The design will also include sub-facilities that can simulate different aspects of the natural gas industry supply chain such as dry gas production, wet gas production, midstream compression, metering and regulating stations, and underground pipeline releases. The test site is located in the Denver-Julesburg basin, but will be sufficiently far enough away from natural gas operations that background levels of methane will be very low. Thus, the site will provide a realistic, but highly controllable environment within which the MONITOR technologies can be accurately tested.

Duke University

An Autonomous Coded Aperture Mini Mass Spectrometer (autoCAMMS) based Methane Sensing System

Duke University (Duke), in conjunction with its partners, will build a coded aperture miniature mass spectrometer environmental sensor (CAMMS-ES) for use in a methane monitoring system. The team will also develop search, location, and characterization algorithms. Duke will apply its recent innovations in mass spectrometers to increase the throughput of the spectrometer, providing continuous sampling without diminishing its resolution by integrating spatially coded apertures and corresponding reconstruction algorithms. The coded aperture will also provide advanced specificity and sensitivity for methane detection and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) associated with natural gas production. Duke's innovations could provide low-cost, advanced sensors to localize and characterize methane and VOC emissions, helping to accelerate detection and mitigation of methane and VOC emissions at natural gas sites.

General Electric

Microstructured Fiber for Infrared Absorption Measurements of Methane Concentration

General Electric (GE) will partner with Virginia Tech to design, fabricate, and test a novel, hollow core, microstructured optical fiber for long path-length transmission of infrared radiation at methane absorption wavelengths. GE will drill micrometer-sized side-holes to allow gases to penetrate into the hollow core. The team will use a combination of techniques to quantify and localize the methane in the hollow core. GE's plans to develop fibers that can be designed to fit any natural gas system, providing flexibility to adapt to the needs of a monitoring program in a wide variety of places along the natural gas value chain, including transmission and gathering pipelines. GE anticipates that the fiber detector will be cost competitive with other highly selective methane detectors, and therefore offer innovative capabilities for more cost effective methane monitoring.

IBM T. J. Watson Research Center

An Intelligent Multi-modal CH4 Measurement System (AIMS)

IBM's T.J Watson Research Center (IBM) is working in conjunction with Harvard University and Princeton University to develop an energy-efficient, self-organizing mesh network to gather data over a distributed methane measurement system. Data will be passed to a cloud-based analytics system using custom models to quantify the amount and rate of methane leakage. Additionally, IBM is developing new, low-cost optical sensors that will use tunable diode laser absorption spectroscopy (TDLAS) for methane detection. While today's optical sensors offer excellent sensitivity and selectivity, their high cost and power requirements prevent widespread adoption. To overcome these hurdles, IBM and its partners plan to produce a miniaturized, integrated, on-chip version that is less expensive and consumes less power. At a planned cost of about $300 per sensor, IBM's sensors will be 10 to 100 times cheaper than TDLAS sensors on the market today. By advancing an affordable methane detection system that can be customized, IBM's technology could enable producers to more efficiently locate and repair methane leaks, and therefore reduce overall methane emissions.

LI-COR Biosciences, Inc.

Ultra-Sensitive Methane Leak Detection System for the Oil and Gas Industry Exploiting a Novel Laser Spectroscopic Sensor with Revolutionary High Performance / Low Cost

LI-COR is working with Colorado State University (CSU) and Gener8 to develop cost-effective, highly sensitive optical methane sensors that can be integrated into mobile or stationary methane monitoring systems. Their laser-based sensor utilizes optical cavity techniques, which provide long path lengths and high methane sensitivity and selectivity, but previously have been costly. The team will employ a novel sensor design developed in parallel with advanced manufacturing techniques to enable a substantial cost reduction. The sensors are expected to provide exceptional long-term stability, enabling robust, unattended field deployment and further reducing total cost-of-ownership. CSU will test representative sensor prototypes and demonstrate the sensor's application to leak detection and quantification. The team's proposed sensor could decrease the expense of today's monitoring technologies and encourage widespread adoption of methane monitoring and mitigation at natural gas wellpads.

Maxion Technologies, Inc.

Tunable Laser for Methane Sensing

Maxion Technologies Inc. (Maxion) is partnering with Thorlabs Quantum Electronics (TQE), Praevium Research, Inc., and Rice University to develop a low cost, tunable, mid-infrared (mid-IR) laser source to be used in systems for detecting and measuring methane emissions. The new architecture is planned to reduce the cost of lasers capable of targeting methane optical absorption lines near 3.3 microns, enabling the development of affordable, high sensitivity sensors. The team will combine Praevium and TQE's state-of-the-art Micro-Electro-Mechanical-System tunable Vertical Cavity Surface Emitting Laser (MEMS-VCSEL) technology with an Interband Cascade Laser (ICL) active core developed by Maxion. The unique design offers advantages in manufacturing that are expected to yield a factor-of-40 reduction in the cost of the laser source, and the wide tunability will allow the same laser design to be shared across multiple applications. When integrated with a full methane detection system, this technology could enable significant reduction in the cost associated with identifying, quantifying, and locating methane leaks as compared to currently available technologies.

Palo Alto Research Center

System of Printed Hybrid Intelligent Nano-Chemical Sensors (SPHINCS)

Xerox Corporation's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) will work with BP and NASA's Ames Research Center to combine Xerox's low-cost print manufacturing and NASA's gas-sensing technologies to develop printable sensing arrays that will be integrated into a cost-effective, highly sensitive methane detection system. The system will be based on sensor array foils containing multiple printed carbon nanotube (CNT) sensors and supporting electronics. Each sensor element will be modified with dopants, coatings, or nanoparticles such that it responds differently to different gases. Through principal component analysis and machine learning techniques, the system will be trained for high sensitivity and selectivity for components of natural gas and interfering compounds. The goal is to be able to detect methane emissions with a sensitivity of 1 ppm and localize the source of emissions to within 1 meter, offering enhanced precision when compared to current equipment. By using low-cost printing techniques, the project team's system could offer an affordable alternative to more expensive optical methane detectors on the market today.

Physical Sciences Inc.

RMLD-Sentry for Upstream Natural Gas Leak Monitoring

Physical Sciences, Inc. (PSI), in conjunction with Heath Consultants Inc., Princeton University, the University of Houston, and Thorlabs Quantum Electronics, Inc., will miniaturize their laser-based Remote Methane Leak Detector (RMLD) and integrate it with PSI's miniature unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), known as the InstantEye, to create the RMLD-Sentry. The measurement system is planned to be fully autonomous, providing technical and cost advantages compared to manual leak detection methods. The team anticipates that the system would have the ability to measure ethane, as well as methane, which would allow it to distinguish biogenic from thermogenic sources. The RMLD-Sentry is planned to locate wellpad leak sources and quantify emission rates by periodically surveying the wellpad, circling the facility at a low altitude, and dynamically changing its flight pattern to focus in on leak sources. When not in the air, RMLD-Sentry would monitors emissions around the perimeter of the site. If methane is detected, the UAV would self-deploy and search the wellpad until the leak location is identified and flow rate is quantified using algorithms to be developed by the team. PSI's design is anticipated to facilitate up to a 95% reduction in methane emissions at natural gas sites at an annualized cost of about $2,250 a year - a fraction of the cost of current systems that allow for continuous monitoring. In addition to requiring less manpower for continuous monitoring, the team expects to develop techniques to reduce manufacturing costs for the laser sources by applying economies of scale and streamlined manufacturing processes.

Rebellion Photonics, Inc.

goGCI - Portable Methane Detection Solution

Rebellion Photonics, Inc. (Rebellion) plans to develop portable methane gas cloud imagers that can wirelessly transmit real-time data to a cloud-based computing service. This would allow data on the concentration, leak rate, location, and total emissions of methane to be streamed to a mobile device, like an iPad, smartphone, or Google Glass. The infrared imaging spectrometers will leverage snapshot spectral imaging technology to provide multiple bands of spectral information for each pixel in the image. Similar to a Go Pro camera, the miniature, lightweight camera is planned to be attached to a worker's hardhat or clothing, allowing for widespread deployment. By providing a real-time image of the plume to a mobile device, the technology's goal is to provide increased awareness of leaks for faster leak repair. This system could enable significant reduction in the cost associated with identifying, quantifying, and locating methane leaks as compared to currently available technologies.

University of Colorado, Boulder

Frequency Comb-Based Remote Methane Observation Network

The University of Colorado-Boulder (CU-Boulder) will team up with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (a partnership between CU-Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) to develop a reduced-cost, dual frequency comb spectrometer. The frequency comb would consist of 105 evenly spaced, sharp, single frequency laser lines covering a broad wavelength range that includes the unique absorption signatures of natural gas constituents like methane. The team has shown that frequency comb spectrometers can measure methane and other gases at parts-per-billion concentration levels over kilometer-long path lengths. Current, long-range sensing systems cannot detect methane with high sensitivity, accuracy, or stability. The team's frequency combs, however, are planned to be able to detect and distinguish methane, ethane, propane, and other gases without frequent calibration. When integrated into a complete methane detection system, the combs could lower the costs of methane sensing due to their ability to survey large areas or multiple gas fields simultaneously. When employed as part of a complete methane detection system, the team's innovation aims to improve the accuracy of methane detection while decreasing the costs of systems, which could encourage widespread adoption of methane emission mitigation at natural gas sites.

ARPA-E brings together experts from diverse disciplines and industries to frame new ways of looking at the energy challenge. By viewing the problem through a different lens, ARPA-E brings together new capabilities to develop new technology solutions. The DELTA and MONITOR programs illustrate this novel approach well. In this video, Associate Director of Technology Dr. Patrick McGrath discusses how ARPA-E has reframed the challenge of building efficiency with the DELTA program and methane leaks with the MONITOR program differently in order to yield “out of left field” technologies that can lead to transformational gains. The video features two projects – University of California San Diego’s DELTA project and Rebellion Photonics’ MONITOR project.

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