Bristol-based QLM Technology develops leak-detecting quantum camera to cut oil and gas emissions

QLM Technology

A new a quantum-enabled gas imaging camera developed by Bristol based QLM Technology will help dramatically cut environmentally damaging methane leaks from the oil and gas industry.

The camera is produced and developed by the University of Bristol spinout and funded by the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund’s commercialising quantum technologies challenge.

It can visualise and measure the amount of gas being lost through leaks from great distances.

This represents a major improvement on current methods of detection, which are time consuming and make measuring the amount lost difficult.

Murray Reed, CEO of QLM Technology, said: “The oil and gas majors have pledged to significantly reduce their methane emissions, but you can’t manage what you can’t measure and no-one is measuring methane properly, continuously, and at scale.

“The scale of the problem is enormous, with more than half a million active gas wells in North America alone, and many thousands of offshore rigs and gas storage facilities worldwide.

“In the UK we have 24 major pipeline compressor stations, which power long-distance natural gas pipes, and hundreds of above ground storage installations. All are leaking at some time.”

UK Research and Innovation’s commercialising quantum technologies challenge director Roger McKinlay said: “This camera uses state of the art quantum technology to ‘see the invisible’. It will help reduce the amount of methane which escapes into the atmosphere through leaks, which is both costly to the oil and gas industry and damaging to the environment.

“In the year of COP26, innovations like this that find practical ways of reducing emissions have never been more important.”

The camera is the result of the two-year Single Photon Lidar Imaging of Carbon Emissions (SPLICE) project.

It can continuously detect, quantify and model the development of leaks, and notify plant operators immediately when gas escapes.

Existing laser-based systems for methane measuring use complex and costly mirror arrays to reflect light into a conventional detector.

By contrast, the QLM product uses a revolutionary single photon avalanche detector.

The detector is so sensitive it can detect just a few photons of light and can therefore “see” gas without the need for a mirror.

The universities of Sheffield, Aston and Bristol, meanwhile, are working to expand the range of gases that the new sensors can detect, to include many other greenhouse gases.

This opens up the possibility of using this technology in other sectors, such as agriculture.