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

GTI Energy is involved in a slate of activities for critical infrastructure monitoring.

As part of the push to find newer, more advanced techniques to detect and quantify leaks, GTI Energy is 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 can image and quantify relatively small leaks, which has specific applicability to natural gas distribution companies.

Two projects funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (DOT PHMSA) have focused on leak detection technologies. The first effort 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) in addition to DOT PHMSA, implemented the evaluation methods detailed in the recommended practice. The project involved an extensive collaboration with drone technology provider, Seekops, Inc to focus the evaluation methodologies on their drone-based leak detection system. The project showed the usefulness of drone-based methane detection for “hard to access” areas and illustrated that rigid survey procedures can limit the ability of the drone system to properly locate leaks, but structured surveys allow for proper coverage of all areas, In the real world, to take advantage of the ability of the drone to cover large areas, there should be a combination of first flying a predefined path to ensure proper coverage, then targeted investigations with the drone in areas where there were detections.

View the Validation of Remote Sensing and Leak Detection Technologies Under Realistic and Differing Conditions final report.

Handheld laser methane detectors have been an important area of sensor development in recent years. In an OTD-funded project, GTI Energy evaluated strengths and weaknesses of these sensors for use by natural gas distribution companies.

Phase one highlighted the large-scale differences in the different types of handheld laser methane detectors in a public report. Overall, the sensors proved to be useful for several potential use cases.

The second phase evaluated 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). The project found the handheld laser methane detectors difficult to use in close environments, which aligns with technology vendors recommendations to use the instruments at an optimal distance of 30 feet.

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 unsafe environment. GTI Energy, with funding from OTD, collaborated with several utility companies involved in an American Gas Association “Gas Filled Occupancy” Task Force to evaluate all aspects of these events 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.

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