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Alberta - August 15, 2018

This story was originally published by the University of Calgary in UToday.

Governments and companies around the world are pledging to reduce methane emissions, especially greenhouse-gas emissions emitted by the upstream petroleum industry. Leading emissions-modelling technology, being developed by University of Calgary researchers, may go a long way toward accurately measuring these emissions to help jurisdictions and upstream petroleum companies meet their reduction targets.

methane monitoring
The Containment and Monitoring Institute Newell Country Field Research Station near Brooks, Alberta (Photo: UCalgary)

The energy industry emits significant amounts of greenhouse gases, including methane, through flaring, venting, and fugitive emissions from equipment. Researchers at the Containment and Monitoring Institute (CaMI) Newell County Field Research Station (FRS) near Brooks, Alberta, work with industry on carbon capture and storage technologies and on developing and testing sensors and methods of measuring emissions from upstream petroleum operations. CaMI is a partnership between the University of Calgary and CMC Research Institutes, a not-for-profit corporation that is working to advance technologies to reduce carbon emissions in industries like oil and gas, and is funded by the Canada First Excellence Research Fund initiative and the Global Research Initiative in Sustainable Low Carbon Unconventional Resources, and by other sources. The 200-hectare research station provides the step between modelling in the lab and full-scale field pilots.

Establishing Ways to Accurately Quantify Emission Rates

"In the past it's just been, 'Yes this area is leaking, it looks like a big leak but we don’t know how much,'" says Don Lawton, director of CaMI and professor of geophysics in the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Science. "Qualitative measurements have been around for a while, but you can’t use forward-looking infrared cameras to accurately quantify emission rates. Now we’re looking to establish methods for quantitatively identifying emission sources and their rates in terms of cubic metres a day to achieve the new policy goals of reducing methane emissions."

Jim EllisEnabling industry innovation is a key component of our regulatory framework.

Laura Johnson, technical advisor, research and innovation, Climate Policy Assurance

The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) is developing new regulations to reduce methane emissions in partnership with the Government of Alberta and industry. Officials with the AER visited CaMI in May to learn more about the FRS and the array of technologies being developed there.

"We're looking to understand what capabilities currently exist for testing new technologies for the detection, measurement, and mitigation of methane emissions," says Laura Johnson, technical adviser, research and innovation, Climate Policy Assurance with the AER. "We enjoyed our visit to the CaMI research station. We were especially interested in the role that the research station has played in testing aerial detection technologies. Enabling industry innovation is a key component of our regulatory framework."

New Technologies Sense and Measure Methane Releases

"We've done a number of controlled natural-gas-release experiments at our site," says Lawton. "We release compressed natural gas at a very well-calibrated rate that we can monitor using various detectors, some of which we’re developing within our own research group, as well as other detectors, some of which are already commercial."

Using funding from Western Economic Diversification—a federal program devoted to diversifying the western economy and improving the lives of western Canadians—and working with University of Colorado Boulder, Université Laval, and Longpath LLC, CaMI is building a dual-frequency comb laser interferometer methane sensor for the FRS.

"In addition, we have also undertaken a number of controlled-release experiments at our site in partnership with the University of Calgary Centre for Smart Emissions Sensing Technologies (SENST) using a detector developed by Chris Hugenholtz, director of SENST and associate professor in the Department of Geography," Lawton adds. Hugenholz’s team develops analytics for methane-sensing systems. One of their technologies is a mobile vehicle system that is able to screen large areas quickly and provide real-time localization and quantification of methane emissions.

This system was recently tested in California against other leading methane-sensing technologies in the Stanford / Environmental Defense Fund Mobile Monitoring Challenge.

'We Want Our Site to Be an Internationally Credited Calibration Station'

"We're setting up a leading-edge sensor system so people can come to the FRS and calibrate their methane detectors. They could come to our site and get them calibrated against a known standard," says Lawton. "We want to be methane HQ. We want our site to be an internationally credited calibration station, and we are well on our way.”

Located in the heart of Canada’s energy sector, the University of Calgary has built a reputation as a global leader in energy research and innovation. With a focus on a low-carbon future, diverse teams are also assessing the effects of energy-related processes while harnessing unconventional hydrocarbon resources through its Energy Innovations for Today and Tomorrow Research Strategy.

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