Space based monitoring detects greenhouse gas faster

satellite oil sands

GHGSat launched its first commercial satellite “Iris” in September 2020 and its second satellite “Hugo” in early 2021. What’s special about this satellite family is they can pinpoint and measure greenhouse gas emissions from industrial sites anywhere in the world with an extremely high degree of accuracy.

The Montreal-based company has come a long way since it tested its first demonstration satellite, “Claire”, in 2016, in partnership with a number of COSIA members. “COSIA recognized the potential of the innovation early on as a way to safely and reliably monitor methane and gather better emissions data,” says GHGSat President Stephane Germain. On their part, COSIA members wanted to better track and understand where greenhouse gases were coming from in the oil sands.

“We are always looking for innovative technologies that will accelerate our environmental performance and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from our operations,” says Michael Yuen, Senior Technical Advisor, from Imperial, which is leading this work through COSIA. 

Since then, GHGSat has learned a lot and improved both its algorithms and technology. In 2021, it will trial a two-tired approach in the oil sands, flying light aircraft equipped with GHGSat’s airborne variant instrumentation over the region to complement satellite data and deliver an even more detailed emissions picture.

Meanwhile, Hugo, Iris and Claire are orbiting approximately 500 kilometres above the earth’s surface, circling the globe from pole to pole, and scanning the oil sands as they come into view about every two weeks. With the company’s patented technology, they can ‘see’ and map methane emissions from a variety of industrial operations all over the world, collecting more data faster and with a higher degree of accuracy than traditional ground-based methods.

Their data helps oil sands producers quickly pinpoint methane sources and take steps to mitigate emissions sources sooner, Yuen explains. And although the satellites are focused on looking for methane, they could potentially track and measure carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases too. 

Methane is a contributing factor to climate change, which is why industry is looking for better ways to track its unintended release. The problem is, it can be difficult to detect and quantify because there are natural sources of methane too. Better measurement and monitoring are key to understanding how much originates from oil and gas production sites. Satellite monitoring could solve that long standing industry challenge.

Named after children of GHGSat employees, Claire, Iris, and Hugo represent the company’s vision of providing actionable data to help the world reduce emissions and ensure a sustainable future for the next generation. Now that’s an aspiration that COSIA members can get behind.

The company plans to build out its satellite fleet and expand its monitoring services. Potential customers include coal mines, shale gas facilities, landfills, hydro electric power stations, and agricultural operations, such as dairy and feed lots, all of which produce methane in significant enough quantities they can be ‘seen’ from space.

Interested in other stories like these? Check out:
•    Building tomorrow with today’s CO2  
•    Rounding up CO2: a circular economy
•    Emissions free energy possible

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