Validating methane emission measurement techniques

The amount of methane in the atmosphere today is higher than at any point in at least 800,000 years. Emissions of carbon dioxide from human activity are the largest cause of global warming, but methane is the next most important greenhouse gas produced, as one tonne of methane causes much more warming than one tonne of carbon dioxide. Efforts to stabilise Earth’s climate will therefore never be effective unless methane emissions are reduced.

Emissions from sources such as petrochemical and waste management facilities are unintentional leaks which, if detected, can be fixed. Waste contributes an estimated 30% of all methane emissions across Europe and emissions from petrochemical sites, for instance, oil refineries, via small leaks in flanges and pipework, contribute a further 19%.

Active remote sensing techniques such as NPL’s Differential Absorption Lidar are suited to the measurements of emissions leaks, as they have wide spatial coverage over hundreds of metres. This is particularly beneficial when areas are inaccessible to in-situ techniques either due to location or safety issues.

The cost of monitoring technology needs to come down and some new sensors are emerging onto the market. To facilitate their uptake, there is a pressing need to validate them to give users and regulators confidence in their performance.

For this purpose, NPL developed a new Controlled Release Facility, which has been used to generate defined emission rates of methane emissions under real-world conditions, replicating the sizes and distribution of industrial sources. A number of projects are currently using the facility to validate new emission monitoring techniques in the field.

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