University of Calgary launches Centre for Smart Emissions Sensing Technologies

Chris Hugenholtz, an associate professor in the Department of Geography, seen here with his drone technology, is director and head researcher of the newly established Centre For Smart Emissions Sensing Technologies. Photo by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Researchers will develop technology to detect methane emissions from oil and gas sector, first step to hitting reduction targets

The University of Calgary is launching the Centre for Smart Emissions Sensing Technologies, which will assist the Alberta oil and gas industry to meet the 45 per cent reduction in methane emissions required by the Alberta government’s Climate Leadership Plan, according to a press release.

The Centre will be a platform for developing new and improved technologies aimed at better detecting and measuring methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. It will also guide investment in new smart technology solutions for reducing methane emissions.

The Centre will seek to lower the oil and gas sector’s carbon footprint by accelerating made-in-Canada methane-sensing solutions, according to Chris Hugenholtz, director and head researcher of the Centre and an associate professor in the University of Calgary’s Department of Geography.

“One of the challenges we face in achieving reductions from the oil and gas sector is that we don’t always know where all the emissions are coming from or how much gas is leaking into the atmosphere,” he said.

The Centre was established with the support of the federal government, through a $400,000 investment from Western Economic Diversification Canada and funding from other partners and the University of Calgary.

“To better detect these hidden emissions, we need to develop new technology and new measurement systems that will help find them faster and cost-effectively, and allow us to quantify emission rates. This will inform decisions about reducing emissions,” said Hugenholtz.

Among the Centre’s goals will be the creation of smart methane sensing systems with embedded intelligence, which fuse multi-sensory data with analytics to better find and quantify methane emissions.

A primary focus will be developing next generation scalable sensing technology capable of addressing the geographic scale of methane emissions from Western Canada’s massive oil and gas network. This will include ground-based networks of fixed sensors and mobile sensing systems like vehicles, drones, aircraft, and satellites.

Another focus area will be advancing sensing using robotic drones. These drones, embedded with artificial intelligence, will essentially act as “sniffer dogs,” says Hugenholtz, finding hidden emission sources with minimal human input.

The Centre will aim to develop and mature its technologies through a process of controlled testing. This will involve releasing small, contained quantities of methane into the atmosphere and then putting the sensing technologies to work, allowing researchers to gauge their performance and make improvements.

This testing is a critical step in developing the sensing technology needed to reduce emissions, says Hugenholtz.

“Through SENST we have an opportunity to advance technology and knowledge-based innovations that lead to emissions reduction. We’re keen to help researchers, entrepreneurs, and established companies translate their concepts and prototypes into commercial products and services. There’s no silver bullet technology that’s going to solve all the emissions problems,” said Hugenholtz.

“It’s going to take a lot of dedicated research and testing to define the operational niches of different technologies so that we can prescribe the right tools for the job. SENST is here to support and accelerate this process.”

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