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Detecting a methane leak faster and more safely

UgCS: Flight Planning & Control
February 27, 2019

Carrying out safe and quick inspections of potentially dangerous gas leaks is a must for every natural-gas-powered production facility, power plant, and pipeline maintenance company, as well as any other company along the natural gas supply chain. Drones with methane gas detectors are swift, mobile and don’t make any false readings, saving time and money, while also providing safety for employees.

But to take the benefits to a whole new level, the drone has to be able to transfer the data precisely and in real time.

Leak data on the go

PERGAM, the Swiss manufacturer, distributor and service provider of world-leading gas leak detection systems, and SPH Engineering, a UAV system integrator and provider of the world’s premier mission planning software, have just presented their latest joint creation: a second-generation Laser Methane Copter (LMC). With a wide range of applications, including natural gas pipeline surveys, tank inspections, landfill emission monitoring, gas well testing, and plant safety audits, it promises to become a game-changer for the numerous industries which use or produce methane.

How does the laser detect a gas leak? It does so by beaming a laser light at a specific spectral range – 1.65 micrometers – while the sensor captures its reflection. Where gas is present along the path of the laser, the light is partially absorbed. The concentration of methane is then calculated and packed into a .txt format file. An onboard UgCS Data Logger, designed by SPH Engineering, is a key component of integration of the drone, detector and ground control system. It transfers the acquired data instantly to the remote control system of the drone pilot or to UgCS’s desktop-based software. This way the responsible team can get a pinpointed location of the leak, meaning they can respond much faster compared to if other survey methods are used.

Compared to stationary gas leak detectors, drones are not only a more cost-efficient way to deal with the problem but also a much more effective one. Previously drones needed to complete their mission and land on the ground before data could be retrieved, but with UgCS Data Logger instant data transfer this is no longer necessary, so gas leaks can be detected much faster and more accurately, as the pilot can fly the drone over the suspicious point on the map repeatedly in order to verify the leak and detect its location with maximum precision.

Rough terrains accepted

The high-sensitivity (from 1 to 50,000 parts per million per square meter) laser methane gas detector can pick up even the tiniest leaks from the height of 30 meters. The sensor is only sensitive to methane, so it is not possible for false readings to be made as a result of the presence of other gases. The flying platform is compatible with DJI M600 and M600 Pro drones. This particular drone offers extended flight time (up to 25 minutes) and a 5-kilometer range for data transmission. It is equipped with an HD camera to ensure maximum accuracy of image composition and capture. As the gas sensor is also light and compact, the whole platform is easy to transport and operate, allowing companies to cover vast areas.

Smooth operation is ensured by UgCS software, developed by SPH Engineering in Riga, Latvia. Besides supporting most industrial drones on the market, it offers several productivity-enhancing innovations. Most importantly for methane detection, UgCS software allows for the drone to be flown at a constant height, even over rough and mountainous areas, as its 3D maps and terrain-following mode can cope with any kind of landscape. UgCS’s drone mission planning software also provides tools for the easy creation and calculation of flight paths, and for the interpretation of acquired data in a user-friendly manner.