From: IEEE Spectrum
In 2015, methane accounted for 655 million kilograms of the 7.1 billion kilograms of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere of the United States alone. The energy sector was responsible for just under half of the methane released, about 279 million kg—lost product with a value of hundreds of millions of dollars.
So detecting leaks from the 2.6 million miles of natural gas pipelines snaking across America is properly both a business and an environmental priority. Air surveillance has reduced serious pipeline leaks by 39 percent since 2009, but there have still been 250 serious incidents in the past 8 years. These include a San Bruno, Calif., pipeline blast that killed eight people in 2010 and the Aliso Canyon leak in 2016—which released about 97 million kilograms of methane, essentially doubling the Greater Los Angeles area’s usual volume of methane emissions from all sources for a three month period.
Until now, efforts to detect what the industry calls “fugitive emissions” have been constrained by the instrument sensitivity and response times. Airborne surveillance required low-flying, slow-moving, expensive-to-run helicopters.
A new approach increases sensitivity and tightens control of timing and synchronization to permit the system to operate at higher speeds and higher altitudes—allowing a shift from helicopters to faster-moving, higher-flying single-engine, fixed-wing aircraft, which are less expensive to own and operate. The innovation earned Ball Aerospace & Technologies engineers Steve Karcher, Phil Lyman, and Jarett Bartholomew the Engineering Impact Award for Energy at NIWeek 2017 in Austin, Tex. The award was presented on 23 May. MORE