Australian-designed sensors to target greenhouse gas emissions
Greenhouse gases like methane and nitrous oxide, which are emitted in large quantities by agriculture, landfills, mines, refineries, power plants and factories, result in significant damage to the environment.
According to scientific research and design group Draco Scientific, taking advantage of methane that would otherwise escape into the atmosphere provides Australian business with an untapped fuel resource and an opportunity to minimise its carbon footprint. Draco Scientific is a joint venture between Melbourne-based industrial design consultancy Outerspace Design and optic research group Wirriga Pty Ltd.
While natural gas is regarded as a cleaner fuel than coal, the loss of substantial amounts of methane risks offsetting this environmental benefit.
A 2012 study, published by the National Academy of Sciences in the US, found that new natural gas power plants only produce net climate benefits compared to efficient coal plants when leakage of natural gas system is less than 3.2 percent, from the well through to delivery at a power plant.
Fugitive emissions from fossil fuel industries accounted for eight percent of Australia’s greenhouse inventory in the March quarter of 2014. While methane is a by-product of the fossil fuel industry, it is also generated in many biological processes and can be recovered as a clean, renewable energy. However, emissions of methane are currently difficult to measure for Australian businesses, making it challenging for them to capitalise on this so far untapped resource.
Draco Scientific’s newly designed highly sensitive optical sensors will help monitor and accurately measure emissions of methane and nitrous oxide gases, allowing them to be mapped in three dimensions.
Draco Scientific has been awarded a Victorian Government grant for the project that is being hosted Melbourne Water to develop the sensors, which have been designed to set new global standards in weight, accuracy and affordability. The project will allow Melbourne Water to improve its processes and to recover greater methane emission volumes and energy.
Melbourne Water already recovers a large portion of the biomethane from wastewater treatment to generate electricity and save on energy bills. There is the potential, however, to recover an additional amount of methane, which if used as fuel can result in further savings.
The technology also has the potential to benefit a number of other industries. The highly sensitive optical sensors will help monitor greenhouse gas emissions from critical sites such as gas pipelines, mines, landfills, sewage lagoons and agricultural land.