Under ARPA-E Program, Companies Move Forward on Methane-Detecting Quadcopter

In collaboration with Physical Sciences Inc. (PSI), Heath Consultants Inc., a Houston-based provider of natural gas-detection technologies and services, is adapting its laser-based Remote Methane Leak Detector (RMLD) for mounting on PSI’s InstantEye quadcopter drone.

Heath says the technology combination, known as the RMLD Sentry, will 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.

Development and evaluation of RMLD Sentry is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Project Agency (ARPA-E). The three-year ARPA-E program will test prototype units at selected field sites.

PSI’s two-foot-wide InstantEye drone can fly autonomously and is suited for all types of weather, says Heath, adding that by flying circular patterns around a methane leak, the RMLD Sentry is able to deduce the leak rate and home in on the leak location.

The RMLD Sentry measures methane by sending an infrared laser light beam downward from the drone and detecting some of the laser light reflected back from the ground. 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, explains Heath.


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