Plugging the leaks

Decreasing greenhouse gases, helping oil and gas companies cut costs, and ensuring nuclear safety—it’s all in a day’s work for one team of scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory.

With funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency, scientists have created software that uses machine learning codes to analyze wind speed, wind direction, and how methane is dispersed into the atmosphere. When paired with special infrared laser sensors that can be mounted just about anywhere—on drones, outside a natural gas plant, or inside a facility—the technology can work autonomously to trace the source of methane leaks.

“Methane is a greenhouse gas about 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide,” says Manvendra Dubey, the lead scientist on the project. “If we can reduce methane leaks, we will reap benefits immediately, as methane’s lifetime is short. This offers a bridge to carbon neutrality, because, if you reduce methane, you will immediately see lower carbon dioxide, the major long-term greenhouse gas.”

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