Google Street View Cars Will Track Methane Leaks In US Cities

Posted: Mar 23 2017, 2:51pm CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

 
Google Street View Cars will Track Methane Leaks in US Cities
Credit: Environmental Defense Fund (EDF)

Using cutting-edge methane analyzers in Google Street View cars, researchers will detect location and magnitude of natural gas leaks in big cities of US

Google Street View cars have now been used to perform a totally different task - detecting harmful leaks of methane gas in the cities of United States.

Researchers from Colorado State University have decided to place cutting-age methane analyzer in Google Street View cars which will help detect natural gas leakage from the pipelines as those cars drove around the cities.

Tracking the location and magnitude of natural gas leaks in urban distribution pipelines is a big challenge but it is necessary to keep a close eye on them. As a potent greenhouse gas, methane is very efficient at trapping heat in Earth’s atmosphere. So, reducing the incidences of methane release will contribute to curb greenhouse gas emissions and eventually to slow down climate change. These leaks also pose safety threats and require quick fixing to prevent any visible damage.

“This is a huge challenge that almost nobody has been thinking about. Now, we’re finding out how just how widespread these leaks are,” said lead researcher Joe von Fischer from CSU.

“The faster you fix them, the bigger the environmental benefits are. But utilities and regulators didn't have the data to focus their efforts. That's where we come in. Our goal is to make it faster, cheaper and easier to find and measure methane leaks from natural gas lines to help accelerate crucial repairs.”

To help solve this problem, CSU researchers teamed up with Google Earth Outreach and used their cars as a new, efficient way to map leaks. Methane analyzers will be attached to three Google Street View cars that move around many big cities of US, including Boston, Burlington, Chicago, Dallas, Indianapolis, Jacksonville and Los Angeles.

These high-precision methane analyzers in Google Street View cars can indentify plumes of methane gas in real time even without any need of lab analysis. Researchers will download and examine data collected by methane analyzers and then release them to the public.

On average, cities with lots of old, corrosion-prone distribution lines such as Boston, Staten Island and Syracuse leak 25 times more methane than cities with more modern pipelines. Researchers calculate that fixing just the 8 percent of the largest leaks would cut pipeline methane emission by 30 percent. It will significantly help prevent the acceleration of global warming.

“Although this mobile monitoring method produces conservative estimates of leak rates and leak counts, it can still help prioritize both leak repairs and replacement of leak-prone sections of distribution lines, thus minimizing methane emissions over short and long terms.” Study concludes.

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