ESG Driving Demand For Qube’s Environmental Surveillance Platform

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Although Qube Technologies Inc. was launched to help companies meet new regulatory requirements for monitoring methane emissions as cheaply as possible, it’s ESG that is really driving the demand for its AI-assisted technology, says a company official.

“In the world of ESG, there's a lot of interest in it, there's a lot of demand for it, but there's not a lot of standardization yet of how you report things like emissions,” Eric Wen, chief operating officer, said in a recent interview. “We think a big gap is the availability of good data to be able to prove ESG.”

But it’s not just “buzzwords and pledges,” it’s real results and outcomes. Qube’s low cost continuous monitoring systems can provide the solid data that oil and gas operators, their investors and customers are demanding, he said.

“It’s with continuous data that says: ‘okay, I had a leak here, I spent this amount of money to fix that leak, here's the data to prove that there's no more leaks. Every time when the wind passes through this area, I can't find the same leak, which shows that I've actually done something.”

Qube recently became the first continuous monitoring technology to receive Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) approval for an alternative Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR) pilot program to detect and repair methane leaks.

Under the AER’s Directive 60, companies can apply for approval of an alternative fugitive emissions management program (Alt-FEMP) using a technology other than OGI (optical gas imaging) cameras to meet the regulatory requirement that oil and gas sites and facilities be inspected for methane leaks up to three times a year. Enhance Energy Inc. had applied for the approval for its methane-monitoring program.

“We think that's a great path to not only deploy technology to help you reduce emissions, but also allow you to meet regulatory commitments at a low cost,” said Wen.

 “Enhance Energy is happy to partner with companies like Qube, that share our values in enabling emissions reductions,” Candice Paton, director of regulatory affairs & external relations, said in an email. “Expertise in emissions management is core to our success and by utilizing the best technologies available for continuous emissions monitoring, we can continue to grow our own knowledge.”

 “It’s especially exciting to partner with entrepreneurs and innovators form our own communities. Enhance works hard to invest in local companies wherever possible to make sure that our activities help to build a thriving industry focused on emissions reduction right here in Alberta.” 

Depending upon the size of the facility and where it's located, the cost of the Qube sensor technology could be up to 80 per cent less on an annualized basis than the periodic OGI inspections with hand held cameras, said Wen.

In addition to tackling the problem of costly inspections, Qube has set out to address some of the inadequacies with current technologies, mainly the fact that they're not continuous, according to Wen. “Simply put, our earliest prototypes were just a very smart smoke alarm that detected methane.”

Qube, which was founded in 2018, has since moved beyond that, using artificial intelligence to help analyze data from field devices. Combining gas measurements, atmospheric data such as wind speed, temperature and humidity and other operational inputs, the sensors can locate and quantify different leaks by emission source (fugitive or vented) and severity.

 “The biggest contributing factor to how these leaks are detected by our system is the wind,” said Wen. “The majority of these regulated facilities are in Alberta where we have a strong prevailing wind from the northwest and so we’re in an opportune place for that.”

The devices will not only detect a spike in emissions but will actually look at what's happening with the wind at the time and where it's coming from, and can determine with a certain level of accuracy whether it's a repeated leak, which indicates an actual fugitive leak, or whether it's actually venting and doesn't necessarily need to be repaired.

Depending on the geometry of the site, Qube typically deploys one to as many as six sensors for large sites. It then optimizes their location, based on the site as well as the prevailing wind.

The modularized design for the hardware, which is assembled in Calgary, enables the company to swap out different sensors depending on the type of facility and the client requirements, said Wen. For example, it will monitor H2S and SO2 while for a site that is known to create odour, the sensors may measure VOCs (volatile organic compounds). With the ability to locate multiple sensors on sites, monitoring can include both methane regulatory requirements and other gases.

Devices are battery powered with solar recharge. In designing its system, Qube assumed they would be deployed in northern Alberta in January when there is only four hours of sunlight, calculating how much time the battery would be able to run at full power without being recharged. The latest version of the device was deployed just north of Grande Prairie, and it was able to operate at minus 46 C, on all sensors without any issues, he said.

“One of the things that makes the technology like ours work is that the costs of processors, chips and sensors have come down significantly and with that the cost of LTE,” said Wen. Data is transmitted via a cellular network to the cloud where it is stored and analyzed, pretty much instantly, and then displayed on a web-based dashboard. In remote areas without cell phone service, a satellite modem is used to send data.

Because operators don't want to be looking at a dashboard all day, Qube sets a series of alarms and if the threshold is reached, a notification is sent, citing the need for an inspection.

Qube is primarily a subscription-based service with a customer paying an initial feel to get the devices set up and training for site operators and after that a monthly recurring monitoring fee. “We pride ourselves as the lowest cost continuous monitoring solution out there,” he said.

Qube has received financial support from both the federal and provincial governments through Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) and Emissions Reductions Alberta (ERA) respectively. To qualify for that funding it has had to sign up customers to be able to prove that “this is not a science project but like a commercially viable option,” said Wen.

“Qube is a promising new solution and is well positioned to take advantage of a future O&G industry that will require more frequent and more accurate measurements of greenhouse gas emissions,” Thomas Fox, president of Highwood Emissions Management, said in an email.

His company worked with Qube in the development of its alternative LDAR application to the AER. As part of that, Highwood performed simulation modelling to predict emissions reductions using a new software tool called LDAR-Sim, which creates a virtual world that allows new technologies to be tested cost effectively.

Potential opportunities

Qube sees itself as an environmental surveillance platform that can be deployed beyond the oil and gas regulatory sector in areas sharing similarities with methane detection, according to Wen. The company currently is in the early stages of pilot projects eyeing transmission and distribution lines, power generation facilities, wastewater management treatment facilities, landfills and agriculture (feedlots).

Export markets are another potential opportunity for Qube, which believes it has a “very exportable” technology and wants to be a net exporter of innovation out of Alberta. “We think what better place to start, than to address something that Alberta is known for,” he said, noting that the majority of Canadian regulated facilities are in Alberta where a majority of energy companies are based.

 “The problem of methane emissions monitoring is a global problem,” said Wen. “We think of Alberta as the innovation hotbed for a lot of energy related technologies, and I think we're in this new era of decarbonization and cleantech, but I think a lot of it could be led by the very innovative energy that is in Alberta.”

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