Dr. Frank Tittel, professor in the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, has received a 3-year grant from the Welch Foundation to develop new sensor technology for the oil and gas industry. The sensor will detect methane and ethane emissions.
Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and horizontal drilling have increased the production and accessible reserves of natural gas in the United States. However, methane emissions from these activities are estimated at 2-5%, with some studies suggesting as high as 7%, and contribute to background levels of ozone pollution.
“This is a significant percentage that tells you the potential impact to ozone pollution,” Tittel said.
His group is working to produce new sensor technology, based on recently available, state-of-the-art, low power consumption semiconductor mid-infared interband cascade lasers (ICL’s). The proposed ICL based sensor system will be capable of detecting methane emissions with sub-part-per-million detection sensitivity at US gas and oil production sites.
The project comes at an important time for the industry, when the U.S. government is striving to reduce industry methane emissions by over 40% in the next decade (source: JTL, March 2015). The EPA estimated that the 2012 emissions caused by the oil and gas industry were at 29%, and is the largest source responsible for methane emissions.
“We aren’t able to estimate what stage of the fracking process the emissions happen,” Tittel said. “With this technology, we will be able to detect defective well-casings or above-ground leakage, the rate of the leak, and pinpoint the problem.”
The sensor will gather spatial and temporal information – when and where the leak is occurring. It will then alert the proper individuals so the leak can be repaired. Because emissions happen at all different stages of the process, the technology is crucial to cutting emissions.
“I am very excited about this project which not only addresses the technology needs of the oil and gas industry but also offers innovative sensors for environmental pollution monitoring, atmospheric chemistry, and medical diagnostics,” Tittel said.