DroN2O: A Drone-Based System for Measuring Nitrous Oxide Emissions from Agricultural Fields

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Ann Arbor,
Project Term:
03/31/2021 - 03/30/2024

Critical Need:

Agricultural and land-based carbon removal, management, and storage is critical to comprehensive climate change mitigation strategies. New technologies to support necessary carbon markets are needed, although robust carbon markets already exist for biofuels. The goal of removing and sequestering more carbon along the biofuel supply chain than it emits requires feedstock producers to adopt new technologies and practices that simultaneously improve yield, drive down production-associated emissions, and enhance carbon sequestration in soils. Carbon management incentives exist downstream in the biofuel supply chain, but not in feedstock production because monitoring and verifying its emissions are too costly to conduct at the field level. Feedstock producers receive the national average for feedstock-production emissions despite significant variations in state and regional averages, as well as field-level estimates. Producers need detailed accounting of biofuel life cycle inputs (e.g., energy, nutrients, chemicals) and outputs (e.g., energy, co-products, emissions) to establish a reliable baseline against which to measure progress.

Project Innovation + Advantages:

Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a significant greenhouse gas that, once emitted, has 300 times more heat-trapping capability than CO2 on a 100-year timescale. It also depletes the ozone layer. Michigan Aerospace Corporation proposes to develop an inexpensive system to sense N2O emissions from agricultural fields using laser-based sensors mounted on drones. These sensors include an optical absorption cell, a short-range miniature wind LIDAR (LIght Detection And Ranging), and a camera for plant health and ground assessment. The measurements from these sensors will be combined and processed with artificial intelligence-enabled software to accurately measure N2O emissions from a given farm field during the entire growing season. The resulting data will provide farmers of bioeconomy feedstock crops with tangible incentives to alter farming practices in ways that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote climate change mitigation.

Potential Impact:

Reducing the uncertainty of emissions quantification is critical to realizing the revenue potential of carbon management markets.


New technologies will maintain U.S. leadership in sustainable biofuel production and advanced carbon removal and management.


These technologies will help incentivize continued emissions reductions throughout the biofuel and bioeconomy supply chains while enabling new opportunities to leverage agriculture and managed land systems to perform carbon removal, management, and storage to address climate change.


Enabling producers to participate in carbon management markets would complement yield-based revenues with economic incentives for input efficiency, climate change mitigation, and restorative practices.


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. David Babson
Project Contact:
Dr. Will Johnson
Press and General Inquiries Email:
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