PSI’s Laser-based Sensors for Addressing Climate Change

Aug 23, 2016

PSI is helping to measure and reduce mankind’s contribution to climate change or global warming which is now an urgent international endeavor. Man-made (anthropogenic) emissions of the “greenhouse gases” carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere are recognized by the scientific community as significant contributors to global warming. Methane is the principal component of natural gas, now an abundant US fossil fuel resource replacing oil and coal to meet energy needs. Carbon dioxide is created by burning these fossil fuels. The US natural gas system comprises approximately 700,000 active wells, 305,000 miles of transmission pipelines, and 1.2 million miles of gathering and distribution pipelines. Methane emissions from leakage of this infrastructure both contributes to greenhouse gas loads, and also poses safety hazards and costs customers the price of lost gas. Reducing emissions and maintaining safety is a continual process of searching for, locating, and repairing leaks. Capturing carbon dioxide from power plant exhaust and sequestering it in underground storage sites is an emerging mitigation technology.

Monitor Y1

For more than twenty years, PSI has been a recognized leader in developing laser technologies for detecting and measuring methane and carbon dioxide. The Remote Methane Leak Detector (RMLD™), a handheld laser-based tool developed by PSI is now an industry-leading product of our licensee and partner Heath Consultants Inc. RMLD™ has transformed the standard practices for natural gas pipeline leak surveying to ensure safety from explosion; more than 3000 are in everyday use worldwide. RMLD measures methane or other target gas (such as carbon dioxide) by sending an infrared laser light beam towards a passive target and detecting some of the laser light reflected back. It relies on attenuation of the laser beam by the methane in the laser path at certain wavelengths, as compared to little attenuation at other wavelengths.

Currently, PSI is working collaboratively with Heath and industry, and with funding by the DoE ARPAe MONITOR program, DOE SBIRs, PHMSA, industry, Heath and PSI, PSI is now adapting the RMLD technology to meeting the challenges of ensuring environmental safety. The Remote Emissions Monitors (REM) are stationary continuously-operating long-path methane or carbon dioxide analyzers based on RMLD and are currently deployed at natural gas storage sites and have been tested at the Illinois Basin Decatur Project’s carbon sequestration injection wellhead. A compact, low-weight version of RMLD has been developed and deployed on the InstantEye®, PSI’s two-foot-wide quadrotor Unmanned Aerial Vehicle featuring highly advanced autonomy and all-weather operation. This technology combination, known as the RMLD® Sentry, will implement self-directed flight patterns to continuously monitor, locate, and quantify volumetric leak rates of methane at natural gas production sites. By flying circular patterns around a methane leak, the RMLD Sentry is able to deduce the leak rate and home-in on the leak location. The leak rate measurement technique is being further developed for use in ground vehicle mobile pipeline survey and handheld methane imaging tools. Additional R&D is underway to adapt the underlying laser technology to monitoring the fate of sequestered carbon dioxide within deep underground high pressure and high temperature storage reservoirs.

RMLD Sentry for Upstream Natural Gas Leak Monitoring

The Federal Government is addressing the need for advanced research to develop novel measurement technologies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In March 2014, the White House released the President’s Climate Action Plan Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions wherein a key step is “Developing new measurement technologies, including lower-cost emissions sensing equipment.” Concurrently, the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Project Agency (ARPAe), following a series of workshops, released the MONITOR program solicitation, dedicating $30M for R&D towards development of novel methane detection technologies. In April 2014: Dr. Steve Chu, former US Secretary of Energy, stated in the Keynote Address of the Gas Processors Association Meeting “Technological advances make it easier and less expensive to capture carbon and detect leaks from improperly capped wells, pipelines and even aging gas infrastructure in cities. The ability to measure carbon dioxide and methane is a big deal because more can be captured, used, re-injected and sequestered. Lasers are now also the key to inexpensive leak detection for natural gas.” In August 2014, the US Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s (PHMSA) Government & Industry Pipeline R&D Forum identified “Refining/enhancing/developing leak survey technologies and methodologies to quantify detected emissions from non-hazardous leaks to prioritize for remedial action” as a top priority technology gap requiring R&D. And in November 2014, the Department of Energy Workshop “Natural Gas Infrastructure R&D and Methane Emissions Mitigation” recognized the need for low cost handheld tools that can quantify methane emission rates. PSI has been awarded significant R&D funding due to each of these initiatives.

For more information, please visit:

Monitoring Fugitive Methane Emissions Utilizing Advanced SUAS Technology Under Development Through ARPA-E Grant

ARPAe RMLD-Sentry for Upstream Natural Gas Leak Monitoring

Company Develops Drone to Help Reduce Greenhouse Emissions

This Drone Automatically Sniffs Out Climate-Warming Gas Leaks

Contract News

PSI recently received the following research contracts:

"Sensitive, Quantitative Standoff Methane Emission Detector and Imager " from the Department of Energy

"Maritime sUAS Applications" from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)

"Miniature Integrated-Optic Trace-Gas Sensors for Off-World Science Missions" and " Optical System for Monitoring Net Ocular Blood Flow" from NASA Glenn Research Center

For more PSI contract news, visit

Editor Donna Lamb

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