‘Picture Worth A Thousand Words’ For Methane Detection
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. If that’s true, Kuva Systems hopes its infrared imaging technology that pinpoints methane leaks is telling stories with happy endings for oil and gas companies and the environment.
Because methane is an invisible and odourless gas, leaks are difficult to detect, especially with accuracy. Kuva says it’s focused on “making the invisible measurable and manageable” through its infrared imaging system that detects methane leaks at oil and gas facilities.
The company says its Gas Cloud Infrared imaging system automatically detects and measures emissions, delivering image-based alerts. Images of emissions are tagged with pertinent data before being transferred to customers via the cloud who can then respond to the leaks without the need to conduct secondary manual inspections.
The technology consists of three main elements: a short-wave infrared imaging camera, a cloud solution that processes data and quantifies the leak rate, and a monitoring and notification service. The latter provides a final review to eliminate any remaining false positive readings before sending the images to the operator, while other reporting and analytics are provided through a dashboard.
Methane emissions from the oil and gas industry are considered a major contributor to upstream emissions that can significantly add to climate change.
“There's a significant opportunity we see that our solution is going to be able to address," says Monica Sippola, director of business development.
“From operational issues and addressing regulatory issues, as well as ESG demands that are coming, and we think we have a solution that is disruptive to the market with a high-performance yet low-cost solution compared to other visual methane detection technologies.”
The Kuva system is usually mounted on a 12-metre-high tower where it can pan 360 degrees and monitor multiple areas of a site. The camera generates a colourized gas plume image of the otherwise invisible emissions and shows the leak’s source. Also, each emission event is time-stamped, allowing the operator to correlate emissions data with SCADA or process data and exposing what caused the leak.
Infrared cameras — especially thermal ones — have been used to sniff out methane leaks for several years. There are five categories of infrared cameras: short-wave, mid-wave, long-wave, hyperspectral, and laser. Kuva says only the shortwave infrared cameras and the laser cameras are non-thermal cameras. Point sensors are also employed to detect leaks. However, the drawback of this technology is that they don’t provide a visual image to show the emission’s source.
Thermal cameras can generate “false positive” emission alarms, which in turn can result in unnecessary repair and maintenance costs, operational inefficiencies, and loss of trust in the monitoring system. There are also safety implications because leak detection teams dispatched to respond to false alarms might enter high-risk situations at the facility or experience motor vehicle accidents traveling to and from the site.
Sippola notes the U.S. government-funded Methane Emissions Technology Evaluation Center at Colorado State University evaluated 11 continuous monitoring solutions, including Kuva’s Gas Cloud Imaging technology. She says it found Kuva’s technology was the only one that eliminated false positives while clearly identifying the leak source and providing high-quality detection.
“This is independent validation of our solution from third-party experts. We don't detect that temperature differential, so what we are detecting is methane.”
While operations of the Cambridge, Mass.-headquartered company have traditionally centred on the U.S., Canada has increasingly become an important market for the company. In fact, today roughly half of its workforce is located in Calgary to serve the North American market.
Kuva is focused on the upstream and midstream oil and gas sectors where it believes the technology is a good fit. In Canada, the company’s technology is deployed at a range of oil and gas facilities for both upstream and midstream operators, especially large operations considered “super-emitter” sites where significant methane emissions are likely to occur.
“Tanks and unlit or underperforming flares have shown to be the majority of oil and gas methane emissions and our technology is particularly well suited to monitor those super-emitters,” Sippola says.
The technology is deployed at about a dozen operators in Alberta and northern B.C., including Cenovus Energy Inc. and Whitecap Resources Inc. operations. Its system is also operating at the Natural Gas Innovation Fund (NGIF) Emissions Testing Centre located at the West Wolf Lake gas processing plant, jointly owned by Tourmaline Oil Corp. and Perpetual Energy Inc. The NGIF centre offers innovators the chance to test their products in a real-world operating environment.
In January Kuva secured US$11.3 million in financing that will allow it to accelerate the growth of the Gas Cloud Imaging platform, further ongoing technology development, and increase its manufacturing capabilities as it strives to meet the increasing demand for the product.
Kuva’s vice-president of product management, Carlos Santamaria, says until now the conversation on tackling methane leaks has been dominated by voluntary emission reduction to address ESG factors. But going forward he believes the demand for Kuva’s monitoring system will be driven by governments across North America adopting more stringent requirements to eliminate methane emissions.
“Now, regulation is going to be a bigger part of the conversation where it is not ‘I want to be a good world citizen’ but now the conversation is like ‘hey, I don't want to be fined, because regulations are now telling me that I must do it.’”
- Emissions Management