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Quantum-Enabled Camera Detects Methane Leaks

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BRISTOL, England, Sept. 8, 2021 — University of Bristol spinout QLM Technology has developed a quantum-enabled gas imaging camera. The device, called QLM-1, will help reduce environmentally damaging methane leaks from the oil and gas industry.

“This camera uses state-of-the-art quantum technology to ‘see the invisible,’” said Roger McKinlay, UK Research and Innovation’s commercializing quantum technologies challenge director.

A new quantum-enabled gas imaging camera will help dramatically cut environmentally damaging methane leaks from the oil and gas industry. Courtesy of UKRI.


A new quantum-enabled gas imaging camera will help dramatically cut environmentally damaging methane leaks from the oil and gas industry. Courtesy of UKRI.


Existing laser-based systems for methane measuring use complex and costly mirror arrays to reflect light into a conventional detector. By contrast, the QLM product uses a single-photon avalanche detector (SPAD). The detector is sensitive enough to detect just a few photons of light, and without a mirror.

The work was funded by the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund’s commercializing quantum technologies challenge, and it is the result of the two-year Single Photon Lidar Imaging of Carbon Emissions (SPLICE) project. SPLICE is an Innovate UK project consortium, working as part of the National Quantum Technologies Programme. It will bring QLM’s gas visualization solution to full commercial readiness, according to QLM’s website.

“The overall goal of the SPLICE project is the successful development of industry-ready single-photon lidar gas cameras, fully featured and ready for use in continuous leak detection and greenhouse gas monitoring operations worldwide,” QLM said, on its website. The three “key targets” of the project are accuracy over long range, practicality and wide-ranging applicability, and scalable and low-cost technology. The project will fund research and development, field trials, production optimization, and commercial presentations.

By the end of the project, the camera and accessories will be fully available to the oil and gas and environmental science industries, enabling a disruptive change to the way methane and carbon dioxide levels are monitored at the facility scale.

The QCL camera can continuously detect, quantify, and model the development of leaks, at long distances and notify plant operators immediately when gas escapes. If released into the atmosphere, methane is 84x more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. This represents a major improvement on current methods of detection, which are time-consuming and make measuring the lost amount difficult.

Additionally, 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.

The system can also monitor the rate of emission and create precise maps of gas leak locations.

“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,” Murray Reed, CEO of QLM Technology said. “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. In the U.K. we have 24 major pipeline compressor stations, which power long-distance natural gas pipes, and hundreds of above ground storage installations. All are leaking at some time.”

Meanwhile, the universities of Sheffield, Aston and Bristol are working to expand the range of gases that the new sensors can detect, to include many other greenhouse gases. This opens the possibility of using this technology in other sectors, such as agriculture.

Supplementarily to the SPLICE project, QLM has partnered with Inzpire Limited, a supplier of training, consultancy, and cutting-edge mission systems, for remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS) methane detection and measurement trials. Inzpire’s Technical and Strategic Services Division will work with QLM to assess the ability of its lidar camera to detect and quantify methane emissions when mounted on an RPAS. The camera uses an eye-safe infrared semiconductor laser and single-photon detection to count individual gas molecules from more than 150 m (492.13 ft). Scanning the laser over the environment builds a 3D picture of objects and gas molecules, showing exactly where a leak is and how big it is.

Initial trials were held in July. Further development trials are planned.

Photonics.com
Sep 2021
GLOSSARY
camera
A light-tight box that receives light from an object or scene and focuses it to form an image on a light-sensitive material or a detector. The camera generally contains a lens of variable aperture and a shutter of variable speed to precisely control the exposure. In an electronic imaging system, the camera does not use chemical means to store the image, but takes advantage of the sensitivity of various detectors to different bands of the electromagnetic spectrum. These sensors are transducers...
detector
1. A device designed to convert the energy of incident radiation into another form for the determination of the presence of the radiation. The device may function by electrical, photographic or visual means. 2. A device that provides an electric output that is a useful measure of the radiation that is incident on the device.
quantum cameracameraResearch & TechnologyindustrialEuropeUniversity of Bristolquantum imagingMethane Leak DetectorUKRIcommercialdetectiondetection analysisdetectorgas sensingenvironmentalLidar sensor

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