Senator Martin Heinrich Tours UNM’s Methane Leak Detection Technology : UNM Newsroom

The Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR) at the University of New Mexico (UNM) hosted U.S. Senator Heinrich (DN.M.), presenting UNM’s research into sensor systems for the monitoring and detection of natural gas leaks. Oil and gas infrastructure represents 30% of methane emissions in the United Statesand reducing this number has been a priority for the legislator.

Senator Heinrich met with Research Associate Professor Lok-kun Tsui and Distinguished Professor Fernando Garzon, both of UNM’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering. The two researchers received a grant from the United States Department of Energy (DOE) to research and develop new sensor technologies capable of detecting methane leaks from oil and gas equipment.

More than 300,000 miles of pipeline carry natural gas across the United States, and leaks cost billions a year while contributing to global methane emissions. The infrastructure crisscrosses parts of the country that also have other sources of methane, such as livestock and coastal wetlands. Garzon and Tsui work on technology to pinpoint the exact location of methane leaks.

Their 3D-printed sensor can detect methane and transmit detection signals to an offsite monitor. Methane monitoring technology like this will be essential in identifying the main sources of leaks and prioritizing those that are most important to address.

“I was proud to lead the nationwide effort to reinstate strict federal rules at the EPA to eliminate methane pollution from oil and gas operations. Methane has more than 80 times the global warming power. as short-term CO2 emissions and poses a real danger to air quality and public health,” said Senator Heinrich. “The development and deployment of this type of sensing technology will be critical to monitor pollution in real time so we can prevent methane from leaking, escaping or spreading through our atmosphere.”

UNM Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs James Holloway and Vice President for Research Ellen Fisher were also on hand for the presentation.

“This technology has taken years to develop and has never been more needed,” Holloway said. “The research was successful in obtaining initial and additional funding from the DOE, which recognizes the need for this type of technology and the viability of the solutions our researchers bring to the table. We are proud of the success Professors Garzon and Tsui have had so far and applaud their continued efforts in this important work.

UNM has partnered with SensorComm-Technologies and Kamil Agi, Associate Research Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UNM, for this project to develop a portable data acquisition and transmission technology required for a sensor system.

Related story: UNM research on methane leak detection could help reduce emissions

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