Evaluation of tools and technologies for detection of methane emissions from the natural gas value chain

Two projects funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (U.S DOT PHMSA) have focused on leak detection technologies. The first project, completed in October 2020, resulted in a recommended practice for implementing and validating new leak detection technologies for natural gas transmission lines.

The second project, with co-funding from Operations Technology Development, NFP (OTD), is implementing the evaluation methods detailed in the recommended practice. The project involves an extensive collaboration with drone technology provider, Seekops, Inc to focus the evaluation methodologies on their drone-based leak detection system.

One important area of sensor development in recent years has been in the area of handheld laser methane detectors. GTI is currently in the second phase of evaluating strengths and weaknesses for these sensors for use by natural gas distribution companies.

Phase one of the evaluation completed in 2020 highlighted the large-scale differences in the different types of handheld laser methane detectors in a public report.

The second phase is evaluating the use of handheld sensors to find tiny indoor leaks where the operator may be within a few feet of the leak (i.e., a meter set assembly in a basement). GTI has produced special testing rigs simulating the indoor meter set assemblies and gas lines running through floor joists. The project is expected to be completed by the end of 2021.

One area of concern around the safety of methane emissions involves a natural gas leak that may occur inside of a structure, creating a potential explosion that can result in injuries to inhabitants and first responders. The American Gas Association recently established a “Gas Filled Occupancy” Task Force to evaluate all aspects of these events, and GTI is collaborating with several of the utility companies involved in the task force, with funding from OTD, to understand venting natural gas from structures using gas dispersion modeling, and evaluate the use of handheld laser methane detectors, optical gas imaging cameras, and tactical robots for evaluating gas-filled structures.

As part of the push to find newer, more advanced techniques to detect and quantify leaks, GTI is currently collaborating with Physical Sciences, Inc., with funding from OTD, to advance the development of the Quantitative Gas Imager (QGI). The QGI is a potentially revolutionary instrument, built on the technology used in the Heath Consultants Remote Methane Detector – Complete Solution (RMLD-CS). The system has the ability to image and quantify relatively small leaks, which has specific applicability to natural gas distribution companies.

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