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LongPath lands $22M for laser methane sensing expansion

06 Dec 2022

Colorado startup has developed gas monitoring technology based on frequency combs.

LongPath Technologies, a Denver, Colorado, startup that has been developing laser-based equipment for methane gas sensing over the past few years, has closed an investment round worth $22 million.

The firm says that it will use the series A funding to scale up deployments and further develop its technology platform for applications across energy and industrial infrastructure markets, including oil and gas, waste management, mining, and urban monitoring.

Simple mission
Spun out of co-founder Greg Rieker’s laboratory at the University of Colorado, Boulder (UCB) in 2017, LongPath has since worked with a number of clients in the energy sector, where methane leaks make a significant contribution to climate-heating emissions.

Recent collaborators include the oil and gas exploration and production company Apache, which has expanded its use of LongPath equipment for continuous methane emissions monitoring in the Permian Basin of southeast New Mexico and Northwest Texas.

LongPath CEO Ian Dickinson said following the series A round: “Our simple mission is to partner with our customers to deliver an effective and scalable solution to detect, quantify and mitigate emissions. Our investors share this goal, and the spirit of partnership to meet the moment.”

Those investors include private equity firm White Deer, energy services company ProFrac, and Buff Gold Ventures, an investment vehicle out of the University of Colorado that is focused on deep technology.

Sally Hatcher, managing partner at Buff Gold Ventures, said: “This is phenomenal technology that meets an urgent societal need. LongPath's approach is highly differentiated and supported by a robust patent portfolio - and it addresses a truly global-scale problem.”

Continuous and autonomous
The frequency comb setup is able to emit light at hundreds of thousands of discrete wavelengths, and from the spectral absorption data generated, it is possible to determine very precisely the concentration of different gases encountered along the laser’s path.

In 2018, Rieker told optics.org that by launching the laser light over distances greater than a kilometer, and spanning a full 360 degrees, users are able to monitor methane across large areas using a single, autonomous instrument.

Measurements of methane concentrations at part-per-billion sensitivities can then be combined with simulations of how wind transports different gases through the atmosphere - allowing triangulation of the location and size of each trace gas source.

“The biggest advantage of this system over current leak detection methods is that this system can run continuously and autonomously, where current methods rely on an operator being on site to spot-check individual pieces of equipment,” said Rieker at the time.

Initial tests carried out in collaboration with the Methane Emissions Technology Evaluation Center (METEC) in nearby Fort Collins showed good results for leak detection from a stand-off distance of more than a kilometer - with LongPath spun out by the UCB team shortly afterwards.

Rieker added: “We think that the most appropriate markets for the technology are in the storage and production sectors of the oil and natural gas industry, but as we continue to work and speak with other potential customers we're keeping an open mind about other sectors as well.”

Frequency combs
The laser technique developed by LongPath is based around spectroscopy with optical frequency combs - a photonics technology that won Roy Glauber, Ted Hänsch, and John Hall shares of the Nobel Prize in Physics back in 2005.

Hall spent more than four decades researching laser technology at JILA (the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics), operated by the University of Colorado and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

“Our eye-safe, long-path laser systems probe the distinct absorption ‘fingerprint’ of many different molecules (methane, hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide, water, and more) across 50,000-plus wavelengths of light,” says LongPath on its web site.

The firm’s technical team has now been working on the technology for around a decade - initially engineering the laser to achieve low system cost and field robustness, before developing a methodology for long-distance gas detection.

“LongPath, CU Boulder, and NIST engineers were the first ever to make outdoor fielded measurements using this groundbreaking technology,” it claims.

The company also points out that the novel approach is the only non-camera technology approved for Alternative AIMM [Approved Instrument Monitoring Method ] use by the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, and clears the proposed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gold standard requirements for continuous methane monitoring and quantification technologies.

“LongPath is the solution of choice to meet the urgent need for cost-effective emissions monitoring in the oil and gas industry,” says the firm.

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