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QLM claims success in methane leak detection trial

05 Jul 2023

UK firm says its single-photon lidar system showed industry-leading performance in 81-day test held under real-world conditions.

QLM Technology, the UK-headquartered startup company that has developed a lidar imaging system for gas monitoring, claims that the technology has demonstrated “industry-leading” performance in recent tests at Colorado State University’s Methane Emissions Technology Evaluation Center (METEC).

The firm’s single-photon approach, which it calls “Quantum Gas Lidar”, combines tunable diode laser absorption spectroscopy with differential absorption lidar and time-correlated single-photon counting.

The technique is able to build up a lidar-generated image of greenhouse gases like methane or carbon dioxide, such that leaks in pipelines or gas storage facilities can be rapidly visualized and quantified.

It has been put to the test in METEC’s “Advancing Development of Emissions Detection” (ADED) project, which is intended to test and develop protocols for reliable assessment of leak detection and quantification technologies under a range of representative field conditions.

Blind testing
QLM explained that ADED trials comprise three-month long continuous tests where equipment is required to identify, locate, and quantify hundreds of individual, simulated emissions over a football field-sized area containing typical energy industry equipment such as wellheads, separators, and storage tanks.

“QLM’s new methane monitoring solution was tested under the ADED blind testing protocol,” stated the UK firm, which agreed a collaboration with oilfield services giant Schlumberger last year.

“It operated uninterrupted throughout the 81-day trial from February 7 to April 28. It detected and quantified 264 individual methane leaks ranging in size from 0.05 to 7 kg/h, identifying 1.39 (75 per cent) of the 1.85 tonnes of total trial emissions, at ranges from 10-80 meters.”

Leaks were located with a mean accuracy of 2.4 meters, added QLM, despite some harsh weather conditions encountered during the campaign - including rain, fog, heavy snowfall, temperatures ranging between -27 and +27°C, and winds gusting over 100 km/h at times.

“We believe this performance is among the best ever demonstrated for any type of continuous methane monitoring technology, and that the demonstrated performance will exceed the anticipated US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) requirements for continuous monitoring solutions for fugitive emissions in the oil and natural gas industry,” claimed the firm.

Photonics for fugitive emissions
QLM is one of several companies offering photonics-based technologies that are either under investigation or being actively used to spot and quantify gas leaks that exacerbate climate change.

Others include Montana-based Bridger Photonics, which last year raised $55 million in support of its airborne gas mapping lidar, and Denver-headquartered LongPath Technologies, which utilizes a laser frequency comb in its gas sensing system, and raised $22 million last December.

QLM was founded as a spin-out of the University of Bristol by current CTO Xiao Ai, and now has operations in both the UK and the US. Led by photonics industry veteran Murray Reed, it raised £12 million in a series A venture round last August.

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