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Tunable Laser for Methane Detection

Maxion Technologies
Tunable Laser for Methane Sensing
Program: 
ARPA-E Award: 
$1,900,073
Location: 
Jessup, MD
Project Term: 
06/02/2015 to 12/01/2018
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: 
Maxion Technologies is partnering with Thorlabs Quantum Electronics (TQE), Praevium Research, 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.
Potential Impact: 
If successful, Maxion's laser 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: 
Maxion's laser will be less expensive to manufacture, helping to lower the cost of methane monitoring.
Contacts
ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Joseph King
Project Contact: 
Dr. Stephen Segal
Release Date: 
12/16/2014