Drone Technology enables three times faster Methane Emissions Monitoring in Landfills

Integrated Systems
February 7, 2024

Over the last few years, the discourse around monitoring methane emissions using drones has gained significant traction. Within this context, Maurizio De Molfetta, the UAV Activity Manager at Symbiotica, a University of Bari Aldo Moro spin-off, shares insights into their experience monitoring diffuse methane emissions, especially in municipal solid waste landfills.

Symbiotica's case study highlights the successful integration of SPH Engineering drone technology in methane emissions monitoring, showcasing its efficiency, accuracy, and safety benefits. The study underscores the importance of expertise in maximizing the potential of drone-collected datasets for informed decision-making.

Challenge

Symbiotica primarily monitors methane emissions at municipal solid waste landfills, oil & gas plants, and wastewater treatment plants. The challenge lies in efficiently and accurately surveying these areas, given the complexity of the terrain and the need for reliable data.

To overcome the challenge and increase efficiency, they decided to give a chance to drone-based technology from SPH Engineering.

They discovered that drone-based monitoring introduces significant innovations, including speed of intervention, safety for field operators, precise positioning, and monitoring automation. The ability to conduct surveys without physically traversing the landfill brings an added layer of safety and efficiency.

SPH Engineering methane detector solution during the survey.

Solution

Symbiotica uses SkyHub, SPH Engineering onboard computer, integrated with methane detector. The technology allowed them to centralize the management of the acquired data and, simultaneously, allowed them to use different tools parallelly, such as the sensor mentioned above for methane detection and the radar altimeter for terrain following.

Your technology has allowed us to significantly speed up the survey workflow, being more efficient in the field and, at the same time, ensuring reliability and accuracy during surveying, says Maurizio.

Once familiarity with the survey type and the working environment is established, the UAV system becomes a valuable ally. The time required for a methane emissions screening activity varies from site to site. Still, except in special situations, up to 60 hectares of surface can be probed in a working day. It is an impressive demonstration of the time-saving capabilities of drone-based methane emissions monitoring. In contrast, the prevailing conventional approach involves a walkover survey employing a Flame Ionization Detector (FID) instrument. This traditional method demands a minimum of three full days of work to achieve coverage and resolution comparable to that of drones. Additionally, the landfill is an emissive body that tends to vary its emission regime over time (there are sometimes variations on an hourly scale), and such a protracted analysis over time risks producing insignificant data.

After screening the surface, it’s time for the next step: data processing. As far as the software is concerned, our process of validation, purification (cut off, cut in, noise reduction, false positive), and analysis of data use algorithms and automation implemented by us, so we use purely calculation software such as Excel concatenated with GIS software for the spatial transposition of data, interpolation, and analysis of various kinds on a spatial or sometimes temporal scale if we can compare two surveys carried out on the same area, Maurizio shares.

Process

Symbiotica conducts monitoring methane emissions in the following way. They start from a cognitive phase of the environment in which they intervene, studying all the details of the intervention ecosystem. Depending on the situation, they proceed to the right system setup. Since they move almost exclusively with automatic flights, the route design phase is fundamental; everything is done through the UgCS flight planning software. Once the routes have been designed, they start the flight activities on the site to be monitored. During the execution of the flight, they can already identify areas with the presence of methane. Following the survey phase, they initiate subsequent steps involving quality checks on the data, processing, and interpretation.

Conclusions

According to Symbiotica, the advancements in drone technology for methane monitoring and data collection are remarkable and range in several areas. The speed is a key feature, eliminating personnel needing to traverse the landfill manually. Drones conduct all surveys, allowing field operators to position themselves safely at the site's periphery. Another notable innovation is the precise positioning accuracy for detected points, along with the automation of monitoring facilitated by the drone.

Symbiotica's research group has systematically compared drone-collected data with traditionally acquired data on the same site over five years. The results demonstrate a positive correlation, with deviations attributed to the nature of ground-based readings.

Maurizio emphasizes the critical role of expertise in survey execution and data interpretation. The configured system is powerful, but extracting functional information from datasets may be challenging without skilled professionals.

While confidential landfill monitoring data cannot be shared, Maurizio provides data samples from field tests and accompanying photos. These illustrate the practical application of drone technology in methane emissions monitoring.

An excerpt of the drone survey results in a landfill identifying the emission points found. There was no interpolation in this case, so it’s possible to see how the exact emission points were identified.
Emissive areas obtained by short-range interpolation of the detected emission points. Several emission points in a small area indicate how that area can be defined as emissive. As shown in the screenshot, the result is not about a single emission point found, such as a badly closed biogas well, but an area with widespread emission.
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