Main content area

“Good versus Good Enough?” Empirical Tests of Methane Leak Detection Sensitivity of a Commercial Infrared Camera

Ravikumar, Arvind P., Wang, Jingfan, McGuire, Mike, Bell, Clay S., Zimmerle, Daniel, Brandt, Adam R.
Environmental science & technology 2018 v.52 no.4 pp. 2368-2374
cameras, detection limit, environmental science, greenhouse gases, image analysis, issues and policy, methane, natural gas, probability, surveys, trade
Methane, a key component of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas. A key feature of recent methane mitigation policies is the use of periodic leak detection surveys, typically done with optical gas imaging (OGI) technologies. The most common OGI technology is an infrared camera. In this work, we experimentally develop detection probability curves for OGI-based methane leak detection under different environmental and imaging conditions. Controlled single blind leak detection tests show that the median detection limit (50% detection likelihood) for FLIR-camera based OGI technology is about 20 g CH₄/h at an imaging distance of 6 m, an order of magnitude higher than previously reported estimates of 1.4 g CH₄/h. Furthermore, we show that median and 90% detection likelihood limit follows a power-law relationship with imaging distance. Finally, we demonstrate that real-world marginal effectiveness of methane mitigation through periodic surveys approaches zero as leak detection sensitivity improves. For example, a median detection limit of 100 g CH₄/h is sufficient to detect the maximum amount of leakage that is possible through periodic surveys. Policy makers should take note of these limits while designing equivalence metrics for next-generation leak detection technologies that can trade sensitivity for cost without affecting mitigation priorities.