US EPA approves Sniffer drone system for methane leak detection

snifferdrone drone methane leak detection

In a first, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) has approved the use of a drone-based solution to detect methane leaks at municipal solid waste landfill sites.

According to the EPA, Sniffer Robotics’ SnifferDRONE method of monitoring landfill methane emissions can be utilized as an alternative to existing federal regulations with certain limitations.

SnifferDRONE is a “hyper-local” solution that comes with a closed-path methane detector onboard a drone. It works by collecting air samples directly at the ground surface, measuring methane concentrations within those samples in parts per million (ppm), and correlating measurements to discrete latitude/longitude coordinates during flight.

Waste management companies have been testing and utilizing this technology since 2019. More specifically, the drone-based system has been deployed in 28 states and at more than 150 landfills to date, leading to the identification of over 16,500 methane leak sources.

And that is huge. We’ll tell you why…

In 2021, the waste industry was the third largest in the US when it came to emitting methane – an odorless gas that is 80 times more impactful than carbon dioxide on warming the planet over a 20-year period. Methane is also considered responsible for approximately 30% of the rise in global temperatures since the Industrial Revolution.

Reducing methane emissions is necessary to limit climate change. Further, there are some emissions that, when collected and converted to energy, could lead to an estimated $6 billion in annual revenues, based on a Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) valuation.

But that’s just one side of the coin.

The traditional methods for monitoring emissions are physically demanding and laborious. In an average landfill, an operator may end up walking about 15 miles in varying environmental and weather conditions (snow/ice/rain/extreme temperatures) over irregular terrain with steep slopes and dense vegetation. They may slip, trip, or fall, or they may encounter wild animals (e.g., snakes, dogs, alligators, rats) or dangerous vectors (e.g., ticks, scorpions). And, of course, there’s always the danger of being exposed to landfill gases.

So, if a drone solution is able to provide a more comprehensive, more effective, and safer means for identifying methane leaks over landfills, why not use it, especially when you have the chance of standardizing the process via automation? The oil and gas industry, for one, is already doing it to reduce its methane emissions.

As Arthur Mohr, Jr, Sniffer Robotics’ CEO, puts it:

We are excited to be the first drone system approved by the EPA for emissions monitoring and believe this provides the waste industry with a more effective means to account for and mitigate its emissions.

Read: Mitsubishi Electric is creating an open marketplace for drone delivery

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