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Mobile Methane Sensing System

Bridger Photonics
ARPA-E Award: 
Bozeman, MT
Project Term: 
06/15/2015 to 07/14/2019
Project Status: 
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: 

Bridger Photonics 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.

Potential Impact: 

If successful, Bridger would create a mobile methane detection system that can be deployed over long ranges and multiple wellpads at a fraction of the cost of current technologies.


Better methane detection technologies could improve the sustainability of domestic natural gas production and the safety of operations.


Enhanced detection systems could enable greater mitigation of methane leakage and lead to an overall reduction in harmful methane emissions associated with natural gas development.


New innovations could decrease the costs of methane detection and help accelerate the adoption of monitoring programs at the nation's more than 480,000 producing natural gas wells.

Innovation Update: 

(As of May 2018)

Bridger developed a cost effective, aerial-deployable LiDAR system capable of rapid, simultaneous, and precise 3D topography and methane concentration measurements. The team partnered with MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory to improve its slab-coupled optical waveguide amplifiers (SCOWA) to perform at wavelengths near 1650 nanometers – the first commercial optical amplifier to do so. Typically diode laser source powers alone do not exceed milliwatt levels, a power output too low for long-range measurements and rapid scans. The team then combined the system with a frequency modulation continuous wave (FMCW) LiDAR approach and a high signal-to-noise wavelength modulation spectroscopy to rapidly obtain high sensitivity measurements. The SCOWA-based system weighs 40 lbs. and is about one cubic foot so it can be mounted on unmanned aerial vehicles and fixed-wing aircraft. The team also leveraged its expertise in LiDAR mapping to integrate precision range measurements with gas measurements. The technology is capable of mapping the geo-referenced topography of an oil and gas production site.  


Bridger is partnering with aerial companies that provide inspection services for oil and gas companies. The team is focused on pipeline monitoring for initial market entry and is actively testing and pursuing deployment opportunities. Bridger has received follow-on funding from the Alberta Upstream Petroleum Research Fund to perform initial test flights with its technology


For a detailed assessment of the Bridger project and impact, please click here.


ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Joseph King
Project Contact: 
Dr. Mike Thorpe
Air Force/MIT-Lincoln Laboratory
Release Date: