Date Announced: 12 Jun 2019
Methane (CH4) is the principal component in natural gas making up about 97% of its concentration, with the remainder consisting of small amounts of more complex hydrocarbons like ethane (C2H6), propane (C3H8), butane (C4H10), and pentane (C5H12). Being produced in nature through the anaerobic decomposition of organic matter trapped beneath the sedimentary layers of the earth, it is found abundantly near other fossil fuels such as in coal mines. Even though it is the simplest of all the hydrocarbons, methane gas is used widely in industrial applications such as power generation, transportation, and industrial chemical manufacturing, in addition to its more commonly known use as a consumer fuel source.
Methane is not only highly flammable, but the fact that it is odorless, colorless, and lighter than air meaning it posses the simultaneous risk of explosion and asphyxiation. It is also a significant greenhouse gas, even though it doesn't linger in the atmosphere as long as carbon dioxide, methane is far more effective at absorbing heat meaning its greenhouse effects while shorter-lived can be far more devastating. For all of these reasons, it is easy to see why methane detection in both the open atmosphere and confined spaces is critical. Detection methods have come a long way from the days of the “canary in the coal mine,” where a canary bird was taken down into the mineshaft so that if there were a spike in the amount of methane in the atmosphere, the canary would pass out first alerting the workers to evacuate. These days there is a wide range of measurement methodologies used for methane detection, but in this application note, we will focus primarily on a technique known as tunable diode laser absorption spectroscopy (TDLAS).
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