Ball creates aerial methane sensing technology

Ball Aerospace detected methane leaks as part of the Environmental Defense Fund and Stanford University Mobile Monitoring Challenge. Photo courtesy Ball Aerospace.

BOULDER — Ball Aerospace based in Boulder has demonstrated technology that can detect methane emissions remotely using piloted aircraft. The technology has applications in the oil and gas industry.

Working with Stanford University and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) Mobile Monitoring Challenge, Ball has produced a high-resolution, geo-referenced image of simulated methane leaks in near real-time.

The Mobile Monitoring Challenge is a new competition co-sponsored by Stanford University’s Natural Gas Initiative and the EDF that involves select teams that take part in a single-partial blind study of controlled methane releases over a three-week period in May.

“Ball has been testing and conducting pilot trials of its Methane Monitor technology with end users for the past 18 months,” said Brad Tousley, vice president, Commercial Aerospace and Strategic Technology of Ball Aerospace. “With an excellent leak detection threshold and wide-area survey capability, our Methane Monitor enables operators to map entire infrastructures with extreme sensitivity to find and source individual leaks.”

During the challenge, the Ball Methane Monitor was flown on a twin-engine aircraft at 125 miles per hour at an altitude of up to 3,500 feet. This technique permits a rapid and long-range method of detecting widely dispersed facilities. Unmanned aerial vehicles and ground-based systems suffer from speed and range limitations, the company said.

Initial results from Ball’s technology were returned to the Stanford and EDF test conductors within six hours after flight, with a full report delivered within 24 hours.

Ball’s system uses active laser spectroscopy techniques to identify atmospheric methane. With this remote sensing technology, Ball can gather spatial resolution column measurements down to 50 parts per million meters of methane above background and deliver rapid results to enable visual assessment of leak sources. An individual sensor allows for daily surveillance of up to 100 square miles of oil and gas production regions, or 375 miles of transmission pipeline.

The Ball Methane Monitor has multiple applications, including enabling safety evaluations of pipeline operations as well as offering a commercial technology capable of rapidly monitoring large areas of oil and gas production facilities and miles of pipeline to detect methane leaks.