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Optical Fibers for Methane Detection

General Electric (GE) Global Research

Microstructured Fiber for Infrared Absorption Measurements of Methane Concentration

Program: 
ARPA-E Award: 
$1,438,627
Location: 
Fairfield, CT
Project Term: 
05/08/2015 to 08/07/2018
Project Status: 
ALUMNI
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: 

General Electric (GE) Global Research 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.

Potential Impact: 

If successful, GE's fiber could be a useful component of more cost-effective and accurate methane monitoring systems for natural gas producers.

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: 

GE's design 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.

Contacts
ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Joseph King
Project Contact: 
Dr. William Challener
Release Date: 
12/16/2014