Tackling Greenhouse Gas Emissions with Novel Printed Gas Sensors



Develop a low-cost system for detecting methane leaks at natural gas wells


Printed gas sensors


Oil and gas


Natural gas is an important part of our energy supply. There are more than 1 million oil and gas wells in North America and greater than 1.5 million miles of natural gas pipeline in the United States. Methane is the major component of natural gas. More potent than carbon dioxide, methane accounts for approximately 10% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) partnered with us to develop a low-cost system for detecting methane leaks at natural gas wells.


Develop a low-cost system for detecting methane leaks at natural gas wells
Conventional methane detection methods, requiring on-site personnel and the use of optical cameras, can be very costly, especially at remote sites. Aside from being costly, traditional monitoring and detection systems do not provide real-time visibility into equipment failures and potential harmful gas leaks. ARPA-E was looking for an innovative solution to address these challenges.

Why us?

Deep expertise in novel printing and electronics; Commitment to improving energy efficiency
Leveraging expertise in novel printing techniques and electronics, we developed a sensor system based on low-power electronics and printed transducers to address the need for timely and accurate monitoring of gases critical to safety, infrastructure, health, maintenance, and environmental applications. With a focus on delivering cost-effective, scalable, and energy-efficient solutions, we were an ideal partner for ARPA-E.


Printed gas sensors
We proposed our novel printed gas sensors as a low-cost solution that would be distributed around the gas wells to detect, quantify, and locate the source of methane leaks. This information would give operators visibility into equipment failures and unsafe conditions and allow for more timely intervention.

Our sensor technology is based on printed arrays of modified carbon nanotubes (CNTs) that interact with different gases. The presence of methane on the surface of the CNTs alters their electrical resistivity, which can then be measured using reliable, low-power electronic systems. The sensors are highly sensitive and selective, being able to distinguish methane (at very low levels) from other gases, even in high humidity conditions. Aside from methane, the sensors can be used to detect other potentially harmful gases such as carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, and ammonia.

We have developed machine-learning techniques to locate the source of a leak on a gas well site and quantify the leak rate based on distributed sensor information. This additional information can assist operators with prioritization of resource allocation.


Successful identification and quantification of methane leaks
Our scientists performed initial field testing at simulated gas wells, where they successfully identified the source of methane leaks and quantified the leak rate. We also developed signal processing and data management routines to collect data for communication off-site via WiFi, cellular, or other technologies. This flexibility allows the system to be easily adapted for different usage scenarios.

*The information, data, or work presented herein was funded in part by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), U.S. Department of Energy, under Award Number DE-AR0000542. The views and opinions of authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the United States Government or any agency thereof.

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