A quantum-enabled camera promises to significantly reduce methane leaks that have been a common culprit in damaging the environment. The new camera can “visualize and measure gas that is being lost through leaks from great distances.”
Developed by researchers at QLM Technology (Bristol, UK), the camera improves upon current detection methods that can be time-consuming and difficult. According to Roger McKinlay, challenge director of quantum technologies at UK Research and Innovation (who participated in the study), this new camera uses quantum technologies “to perceive the invisible.”
“It will help reduce the amount of methane [that] escapes into the atmosphere through leaks, which is both costly to the oil and gas industry and damaging to the environment,” McKinlay says.
According to the researchers, methane is almost 85X more potent when it is a greenhouse gas than as carbon dioxide, when released into the atmosphere. They note that “scientists estimate that if just 3.2% of methane brought up from wells leaks rather than being burnt, natural gas becomes even less eco-friendly than coal. It is therefore imperative that leaks be minimized or eliminated altogether.”
The new camera system specifically can reduce losses of gas, make gas handling facilities safer, and ultimately eliminate greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This is done by continually detecting, quantifying, and modeling the development of leaks. It also can benefit real-world plant operators by notifying them of a gas leak.
No mirror needed
Unlike existing laser-based systems for methane measuring that use complex mirror arrays to reflect light into a conventional detector, the new camera employs a single-photon avalanche detector that is extremely sensitive and, as a result, able to detect only a few photons of light and without the need for a mirror.
“The oil and gas majors have pledged to significantly reduce their methane emissions, but you can’t manage what you can’t measure, and no one is measuring methane properly, continuously, and at scale, says Murray Reed, CEO of QLM Technology. “The scale of the problem is enormous, with more than half a million active gas wells in North America alone, and many thousands of offshore rigs and gas storage facilities worldwide.”
The researchers note that their study is leading the way toward expansion in the range of gases it can detect, including the numerous other greenhouse gases that exist. At this point, teams from the University of Sheffield, Aston University, and the University of Bristol (all in the UK) are working on this expansion.
The work was funded by the UK’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund’s commercializing quantum technologies project.