Laser-based in­stru­ment solves the gas leaks prob­lem

Chemical Industry Digest - - New Developments -

Uni­ver­sity of Colorado at Boul­der re­searchers have de­vel­oped a new laser-based field in­stru­ment that can de­tect and quan­tify meth­ane leaks as small as one-quar­ter of a hu­man ex­ha­la­tion from al­most a mile away. The study was pub­lished in Op­tics.

The laser tech­nol­ogy turns a com­plex, room-sized col­lec­tion of in­stru­ments into a sleeker, 19-inch por­ta­ble unit that can be ma­neu- vered through the field near gas and oil op­er­a­tion sites. The in­stru­ment works by col­lect­ing pre­cise, non­stop data, pro­vid­ing gamechang­ing in­for­ma­tion cru­cial for safe in­dus­try op­er­a­tions and con­trol­ling harm­ful green­house gas emis­sions.

De­tect­ing meth­ane and other gas leaks is ex­pen­sive and comes with tech­no­log­i­cal con­straints that have lim­ited ef­forts to pro­vide con­tin­u­ous mon­i­tor­ing. How­ever, the new sys­tem uses dual fre­quency comb spec­trom­e­ter, which pro­vides an

ex­tremely ef­fi­cient and ac­cu­rate data col­lec­tion, while also be­ing cheaper than pre­vi­ous tech­nolo­gies.

The in­stru­ment sits on a mo­bile plat­form that swivels 360-de­grees and can be placed out in field sites sur­rounded by oil and gas op­er­a­tions. The laser sends out care­fully tuned, in­vis­i­ble beams of light to re­flect off small mir­rors placed a mile or more away.

If the beam, com­posed of over 100,000 wave­lengths, passes through part of a gas plume blow­ing like a rib­bon through the air, gases in the plume ab­sorb some of the light in the beam be­fore it re­turns to the de­tec­tor. This al­lows re­searchers to iden­tify the unique ab­sorp­tion fin­ger­prints of gases like meth­ane and car­bon diox­ide. With at­mo­spheric mod­els, re­searchers could track back to an ac­tual leak lo­ca­tion.

To test the dual fre­quency comb spec­trom­e­ter ob­serv­ing sys­tem, the re­searchers suc­cess­fully de­tected leaks in Boul­der’s Ta­ble Moun­tain re­search fa­cil­ity emit­ted from large metal cylin­ders full of meth­ane they dragged around the rolling hills of the field site.

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