A new study confirms the success of a tool that detects natural gas leaks. It was developed by scientists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The tool uses sensors and machine training to detect leak points in oil and gas fields, making sampling in an extensive gas infrastructure automatic and more accessible. The development is reported in Atmospheric Environment: X.

The Autonomous Low Cost Rapid Leak Detection System (ALFaLDS) was designed to detect accidental emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and won the R&D 100 award in 2019. It is an American annual development and research award. Each year, the editors of R&D Magazine select the 100 best technical and scientific achievements.

ALFaLDS locates and quantifies natural gas leaks by measuring methane and ethane (in natural gas) and atmospheric wind in real time. All these measurements are analyzed using a machine learning code that is designed to detect leaks. The code is trained using high resolution scattering models from the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the training is refined on site with controlled emissions.

Test results demonstrated that ALFaLDS accurately locates the designed methane leaks and determines their size. This new capability to detect leaks with high speed and accuracy at lower cost promises new automated, affordable volatile gas sampling in oil well and gas field locations.

ALFaLDS’ success in detecting and quantifying unorganized methane leaks at natural gas facilities could reduce methane emissions by 90 percent if the industry uses the development.

ALFaLDS uses a small sensor, making it ideal for use on cars and drones. In general, the Los Alamos team in its research is developing sensors that can be easily integrated with a mini 3D sound anemometer and a powerful machine learning code.

However, this code is self-contained and can read data from any gas or wind source, which helps to quickly find leaks and minimize unorganized emissions from the vast natural gas production, production and consumption network.

With this integration, ALFaLDS offers a revolutionary approach to leak detection, oil and gas service providers, non-profit organizations studying emissions, and national laboratories and academic institutions studying natural gas production.