Detecting Trace Gases with Unmanned Vehicles

University of Kentucky Background
Increasing use of natural gas as an energy source in the United States has also increased the frequency of natural gas leaks, which can have devastating consequences on greenhouse gas emissions. Historically, field technicians were responsible for identifying leaks at natural gas wells. However, exposure to methane, the main component of natural gas, puts these technicians at risk for adverse health effects, including acute respiratory distress.Although other technologies for detecting methane leaks exist, they are hindered by a narrow geospatial range of detection, limited flight time, high cost of use. or slow detection time. Furthermore, prior technologies are unable to detect multiple compounds simultaneously. As a result, there is a need for a low-cost, accurate method of detecting several types of gases within a large geospatial area.
Technology Overview
UK researchers are developing a gas detection system that may be incorporated into an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), commonly referred to as a “drone.” Once attached to the UAV, this system uses global positioning technology to detect the exact time and location of the leak at altitudes up to 100 meters. In addition, this detection system can withstand up to 1 hour of flight time, allowing it to detect gas leaks at a higher altitude and for a longer time period than similar marketed technologies.
While other gas detection systems on the market are often limited to detecting a single target gas such as methane, this new system is capable of detecting multiple gases simultaneously, making it suitable for analyzing air quality in addition to detecting gas leaks. The inventors have already demonstrated that this device is capable of detecting methane (CH4), carbon dioxide (CO2) and ammonia (NH3) in realtime and are currently refining the system to improve sensitivity.
Stage of Development
Proven to detect methane (CH4), carbon dioxide (CO2) and ammonia (NH3)in real-time
Further Details
Schuyler, T. J., Guzman, M. I., Bailey, S., & Jacob, J. (2017, December). Trace Gas Quantification with Small Unmanned Aerial Systems. InAGU Fall Meeting Abstracts

Installed on unmanned aerial vehicles
Identifies several types of compounds
GPS technology allows for real-time leak detection
Detection up to 1 h at altitudes ≥ 100 m


Gas detection
Air quality monitoring

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