The UN Climate Change Conference COP26 kicks off next week in Glasgow and there’s sky-high expectations for how policies set there can impact humanity’s emissions to keep global warming below 1.5 C – the magic number beyond which the problem gets “really bad.” While I absolutely believe in the potential for global policies to change human behaviour with respect to emissions, I also believe it won’t be enough, or be fast enough, without the support of new technologies.
The good news is that Tech has always loved solving big problems – just look at the science race that went into developing COVID vaccines. A similar, somewhat quieter, science race is going on right now to solve one of the leading causes of global warming – methane emissions. Methane is a powerful greenhouses gas with a 100-year global warming potential 30 times that of CO2. Methane leaks can be found in agricultural operations, landfills, oil and gas production, as well as urban distribution pipes for natural gas. Methane emissions reduction a science race supported by industry, government and tech and it has the potential to outpace the effectiveness of regulatory policies set by government.
One of the biggest challenges with methane reduction is measurement, because it’s almost impossible to stop emissions when you don’t know when, where, and how much you’re emitting. This is unfortunately the case in many regulated industries because the current state of the art is really more a bottom-up inventory-based estimation than actual top-down methane measurement.
Tech to the rescue! A flurry of activity in methane sensor development is currently being undertaken by technology companies looking to provide customers with low-cost and more accurate methane measurements that not only measures methane but can actually help pinpoint the source. At a very global level remote sensing satellites, like SCIAMACHY, GOSAT, TROPOMI, and GHGSat are used by scientists to detect problem areas on the globe’s surface so corporations can determine which of their facilities have the largest methane footprint. At a more granular level companies like SeekOps and Bridger Photonics are developing airborne measurement technologies to determine which areas of a facility have the most methane emissions and provide accurate measurements. Truck-based Mobile Ground Lab (MGL) systems, such as University of Calgary’s PoMELO, are deployed for conducting local- to regional-scale surveys of methane emissions. And finally, a group of companies like Scientific Aviation, Project Canary, Aeris Sensors, Quanta3 are developing in-situ, always on sensors that have the potential to give real-time warnings to methane leaking on an ongoing basis. However, these heterogeneous sensing technologies have different constraints of operational costs, accuracy, spatio coverage, and temporal resolution. An integrated sensing solution is needed in order to meet the accuracy, spatio-temporal resolution, and low-cost requirements to detect emissions.
At SensorUp we are proud to be part of the methane abatement science race and we see our role as the technology that brings the myriad of new sensors into a single consolidated sensor web. Our founder and CTO, Dr. Steve Liang, is developing a new methane data exchange standard in partnership with the Open Geospatial Consortium. With the help of one of the Canadian government’s more impactful global warming policies, grant dollars for methane tech development, we are also developing an Integrated Emissions Management and Operations Cloud. It is an Artificial Intelligence-driven and multi-sensor data fusion cloud platform that automates the operations of methane emissions detection, quantification, monitoring, reporting, repair, and prediction. The innovation will be able to catch and predict emissions, and automatically dispatch repairs or preventive maintenance, so that the fugitive emissions are stopped earlier or even prevented before they happen.
I remain hopeful that COP26 policies will impact human behaviour on GHG emissions. But I encourage the COP26 members to consider their policies on methane technology and focus their attention and investment on the initiatives with the most potential to slow global warming.