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Smart Methane Detection Technology Developed to Significantly Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions
SLED/M provides a visualization of a methane leak at a compressor station

In the image above, SLED/M provides a visualization of a methane leak at a compressor station

Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), with support from NETL, has concluded a five-year project resulting in the development of a novel methane leak detection technology that has the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the energy sector.  

Compressor stations are essential for moving natural gas in midstream applications, but these stations have been shown to significantly contribute to fugitive methane emissions, a greenhouse gas contributing to climate change. SwRI’s Smart Methane Emission Detection System (SLED/M) is a system that can reliably, accurately, and autonomously detect and estimate methane leaks in natural gas infrastructure in real time using midrange infrared (MWIR) optical gas imaging (OGI) cameras. The technology represents a significant improvement over existing methane detection systems, which have significantly lower estimation capabilities. 

SLED/M demonstrated methane leak detection as low as three standard cubic feet per hour, with a precision of 96.6%. Additionally, by leveraging machine learning techniques, SLED/M can estimate methane flow rate extremely accurately. The technology itself only requires the MWIR OGI camera and some basic weather information, including temperature, humidity and distance from the source, reducing the need for additional instrumentation and equipment. 

“This system facilitates the early detection of emissions before they become a larger problem,” said Joe Renk, senior federal project manager overseeing the work.

Compressor station operators will be able to identify failing equipment in aging infrastructure and replace faulty components expediently, resulting in a significant reduction in emissions through early detection of non-compliant equipment. By adding the capability to estimate leak flow rates in conjunction with visual inspections, operators can identify and first turn their attention to components in greatest need of replacement.  

“The SwRI team has successfully achieved the goals they set out to accomplish in this project,” Renk said. “From the initial SLED/M development, to adapting the technology for use in an unmanned aerial system, to adding automation and quantification abilities to the technology, the team provided a solution that was scalable, cost-effective and non-intrusive.”

Next steps for SwRI include exploring commercialization pathways, adding additional capabilities, and further improving quantification accuracy. 

NETL is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory that drives innovation and delivers technological solutions for an environmentally sustainable and prosperous energy future. By leveraging its world-class talent and research facilities, NETL is ensuring affordable, abundant and reliable energy that drives a robust economy and national security, while developing technologies to manage carbon across the full life cycle, enabling environmental sustainability for all Americans.