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Methane Leak Detection System

Physical Sciences Inc. (PSI)
RMLD-Sentry for Upstream Natural Gas Leak Monitoring
Program: 
ARPA-E Award: 
$2,948,259
Location: 
Andover, MA
Project Term: 
04/16/2015 to 12/31/2018
Project Status: 
ACTIVE
Technical Categories: 
Critical Need: 
The recent expansion of domestic natural gas production, particularly from shale resources, has improved the economic, security, and environmental outlook of our nation's energy portfolio. Unfortunately, at least 2% of this gas resource is wasted through leaks of methane, the main component of natural gas, at production sites. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas (GHG) if emitted directly to the atmosphere, and methane emissions from natural gas development may undermine the climate benefits of using lower carbon natural gas for power generation. Existing methane monitoring devices have limited ability to cost-effectively, consistently, and precisely locate and quantify the rate of methane emissions. Affordable sensing systems would enable more effective methane mitigation programs, which could lead to a reduction in overall methane emissions and more efficient extraction and use of domestic energy resources.
Project Innovation + Advantages: 
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.
Potential Impact: 
If successful, the PSI project will provide a widely deployable, cost-effective system that minimizes the manpower needed to monitor, and survey, and analyze potential methane emissions 24 hours a day.
Security: 
Better methane detection technologies could improve the sustainability of domestic natural gas production and the safety of operations.
Environment: 
Enhanced detection sensors could enable greater mitigation of methane leakage and lead to an overall reduction in harmful methane emissions associated with natural gas development.
Economy: 
The system will lower the costs of methane detection by reducing manpower needs and by providing natural gas operators the tools to detect and prevent losing valuable product that could be sold to consumers.
Contacts
ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Joseph King
Project Contact: 
Dr. Michael Frish
Release Date: 
12/16/2014