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:
IBM’s T.J Watson Research Center is working in conjunction with Harvard University and Princeton University to develop an energy-efficient, self-organizing mesh network to gather data over a distributed methane measurement system. Data will be passed to a cloud-based analytics system using custom models to quantify the amount and rate of methane leakage. Additionally, IBM is developing new, low-cost optical sensors that will use tunable diode laser absorption spectroscopy (TDLAS) for methane detection. While today’s optical sensors offer excellent sensitivity and selectivity, their high cost and power requirements prevent widespread adoption. To overcome these hurdles, IBM and its partners plan to produce a miniaturized, integrated, on-chip version that is less expensive and consumes less power. At a planned cost of about $300 per sensor, IBM’s sensors will be 10 to 100 times cheaper than TDLAS sensors on the market today. By advancing an affordable methane detection system that can be customized, IBM’s technology could enable producers to more efficiently locate and repair methane leaks, and therefore reduce overall methane emissions.
If successful, IBM will create low-cost, low-maintenance methane sensors that can be customized into a distributed methane detection system, giving operators greater flexibility to continuously monitor methane emissions.
Better methane detection technologies could improve the sustainability of domestic natural gas production and the safety of operations.
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.
IBM’s sensors could exponentially lower 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.