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PG&E installs methane detection technology

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Hydrocarbon Engineering,

Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) became the first energy company in the US to pilot an innovative methane detection device developed for the Methane Detectors Challenge (MDC), a groundbreaking partnership between Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), oil and gas companies and distributors, US-based technology developers, and other experts.

The technology, which is being tested as a tool to continuously monitor for unplanned releases of methane, was installed last month at a PG&E natural gas storage facility in northern California.

Methane, the key component of natural gas, is emitted across the US oil and gas supply chain at a rate of more than 9.8 million tpy. Technologies that continuously detect methane emissions offer opportunities to not only improve air quality and operational efficiency, but also recapture resources that would otherwise be wasted — all while limiting contributions to climate change. About 25% of today’s global warming is driven by emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Continuous 24 hour monitoring offered by this technology could cut the time it takes to detect leaks from months to hours. This would lead to improved environmental performance and operational efficiency of gas infrastructure.

“At PG&E, we believe that climate change is, in fact, a reality and we maintain a steadfast conviction to doing all we can to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The State of California has set clear goals regarding emissions reductions, which PG&E proudly supports and is actively working to help achieve. This work with EDF and innovative methane detection technologies will be instrumental to this effort as well as our support of industry partners as they set and achieve their own emissions reductions goals,” said Gas Regulatory Senior Director Jim Howe.

The low cost laser technology being piloted by PG&E was developed by Acutect Inc., a San Francisco-based startup company. The Acutect technology was selected as one of 20 submissions received as part of the Methane Detectors Challenge, which aims to catalyse and bring to market new technologies that quickly detect methane leaks. By working with EDF’s oil, gas and utility partners, Acutect will gain insight and data about how its solar-powered design performs under field conditions.

“The Methane Detectors Challenge created the framework through which I was able to bring together a Chinese manufacturer of laser-based methane detection components and a team of product development engineers I’d previously helped spin out of Carnegie-Mellon, SenSevere LLC,” said Peter Foller, founder of Acutect Inc. “After our technology successfully made it through third party testing during the Methane Detectors Challenge, Acutect is now in licensing negotiations with a well established supplier of industrial sensing solutions. We feel we will be able to, together with this licensee, go to market on a national scale.”

The pilot conducted by PG&E will study the reliability, accuracy and durability of the technology over three months in a true field setting.

“The US oil and gas industry loses about US$2 billion of natural gas a year from leaks at dispersed sites, much of them undetected for months due to lack of continuous monitoring,” said Aileen Nowlan, Manager of the Methane Detectors Challenge. “By building bridges between innovators and customers that need scalable solutions, EDF is accelerating technologies that can help the oil and gas industry improve operations and forging solutions that build safer communities and let the planet thrive.”

The entrepreneurs participating in the Methane Detectors Challenge are part of a growing US sector focused on helping oil and gas operators control emissions. By advancing technologies to market, this innovative partnership is adding to the pool of more than 75 US companies creating jobs by offering solutions to the methane problem.

The partnership will reach another major milestone in 2017 when Statoil, a leading energy company in oil and gas production, conducts real world pilot testing of another laser-based technology developed by Quanta3, a Colorado startup founded specifically to participate in the Methane Detectors Challenge.

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