Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has announced five finalists for its Methane Detectors Challenge, a collaboration with seven oil and natural gas companies aimed at identifying next-generation technologies that will help better monitor and reduce methane emissions from oil and natural gas operations.
The Methane Detectors Challenge attracted 20 proposals from companies and university research teams, which used an array of diverse technologies ranging from infrared lasers to circuit boards filled with off-the-shelf sensors.
Through this initiative, EDF and its partner organizations, including Anadarko Petroleum Company and Shell, have sought out innovative systems that can provide continuous detection of methane emissions at oil and gas sites at a low price point. The five finalists include:
- An integrated system for very low level methane leak detection, adapted from a handheld meteorological sensor currently used in vehicles to detect high alcohol levels in drivers, developed by RAE Systems in collaboration with SenseAir, a Swedish sensor designer;
- A sensor network on a single circuit board, using low-cost, commercially available sensors, designed by a research team from the University of Colorado Boulder;
- An electrochemical sensor solution with a target cost of $30, developed by researchers from Oakland University and Michigan State University;
- An infrared laser-based methane detection system currently used to sense natural gas in the Chinese coal industry, designed by Dalian Actech, a Chinese firm, working with Foller & Associates, a Silicon Valley-based angel investment group; and
- A low-cost, methane-specific laser-based system that does not require direct contact for detection, developed by Quanta3, a technology startup company founded by a Boulder-based research engineer.
The five technology developers will have their ideas undergo a first round of independent testing at Southwest Research Institute’s laboratory in Texas starting next month. The most promising technologies that meet the required specifications will advance to further laboratory and field testing, potentially followed by pilot testing at facilities run by participating companies.
Methane is a pressing climate issue with enormous environmental upside when reduced. In many cases, there also are economic advantages for oil and gas companies to capture gas for sales that is otherwise leaked. EDF anticipates a growth opportunity in the technology market for cost-effective technologies that provide continuous detection of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that can escape to the atmosphere during production, transportation and delivery of natural gas.
In April, President Obama released his long-anticipated strategy for reducing methane emissions. The strategy takes steps to further cut methane emissions from landfills, coal mining, and agriculture, as well as oil and gas systems through cost-effective voluntary actions and practical standards. After assessing several potentially significant sources of methane and other emissions from the oil and gas sector, the EPA will solicit input from independent experts through a series of technical white papers, and this fall will determine how best to pursue further methane reductions from these sources. If the EPA decides to develop additional regulations, it will complete those regulations by the end of 2016.