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  • Laser Detects Methane Leaks
Nov 2014
FREIBURG, Germany, Nov. 13, 2014 — A new laser system can detect biogas and natural gas that escape through leaks in gas lines or fermenters at biogas plants.

A team led by the Fraunhofer Institute for Physical Measurement Techniques IPM developed the system, which can reveal leaked gases faster, more accurately and without making any direct contact. This work is important, the researchers said, as biomass-derived gases are widely used to generate electricity and heat for millions of households.

The new technology is based on optical emission and backscattering spectroscopy, which can be used detect escaping methane gas. The researchers have also been able to detect methane without any backscattering, using a strong laser beam instead.

The laser-based system measures escaping biogas without contact, even from several meters away.
The laser-based system measures escaping biogas without contact, even from several meters away. Courtesy of Fraunhofer Institute for Physical Measurement Techniques IPM.

The gas is illuminated by the laser; the absorption spectrum can then be analyzed to determine gas concentration. That spectrum is very precise, the researchers said, allowing only methane gas to be measured. The concentration of the gas is calculated via built-in range finder, which also identifies how much gas has already escaped.

The system can identify the exact location and position of leaks, and can measure and detect them as far away as 15 m. In addition, the technology is able to detect excessive gas concentrations in rooms and determine when these have become dangerous to humans.

This new technology is expected to be available commercially within the next three to five years, according to Dr. Johannes Herbst, measurement technology expert at IPM.

Also involved in the study were the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety and Energy Technology, UMSICHT and Schutz GmbH Messtechnik.

The work was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture.

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