UAV-Mounted Laser Helps Detect Gas Leaks in Hurricane Area

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Heath Consultants Inc. and Physical Sciences Inc. (PSI) recently demonstrated the usefulness of drone-mounted, laser-based leak detection for emergency response.

The remote methane leak detector unmanned aerial vehicle (RMLD-UAV) was deployed to inspect underground gas lines around Beaumont and Port Aransas, Texas, for major leakage in areas that were inaccessible to vehicles and unsafe for walking due to downed utility lines, flooding and hazardous debris. According to the partners, the operation illustrated the benefits of the technology during situations in which typical land surveys are not possible.

The RMLD-UAV integrates Heath’s laser-based, trademarked Remote Methane Leak Detector (RMLD) with PSI’s two-foot-wide quadcopter, which offers autonomy and all-weather operation.

The partners say the combination can implement self-directed flight patterns to continuously monitor, locate and quantify volumetric leak rates of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from natural gas production sites.

The RMLD-UAV measures methane by sending an infrared laser light beam down from the vehicle. It relies on attenuation of the laser beam by the methane in the laser path at certain wavelengths, as compared to little attenuation at other wavelengths, the companies say.

Development and evaluation of RMLD-UAV is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E).

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