Detecting methane leakages on landfills

Methane (CH4) based energy sources, such as Natural Gas (NG) and BioGas (BG), are considered bridge fuels towards a decarbonized global energy system [1]. NG for example, emits less CO2 during combustion than other fossil fuels.

However, the achieved environmental benefits depend mostly on efficient leakage detection systems, since CH4 has a very high global warming potential. Leaks are common at BG producing facilities, even at decommissioned sites.

For example, at a BG producing landfill site, CH4 can escape through poorly sealed chambers and fissures in pipes and insulation layers. By regulation, BG producers are required to issue monthly emission reports but in practice, measurements are sparsely collected, only at a few predefined locations.

Gasbot – a gas sniffing robot

The Gasbot project addresses the problem of CH4 emission monitoring using a robotics approach. During the project’s lifetime, a proof of concept of a mobile robot for monitoring and mapping of CH4 emissions at landfill sites was developed.

The prototype [2] is equipped with different sensing modalities, such as a 3D range sensor, GPS and IMU modules, an anemometer and a thermal camera. Gas sensing is performed using a state of the art remote sensor that reports integral concentration values.

This means that the measurements are spatially unresolved, with no information regarding the gas distribution over the optical path nor the length of the sensors beam. Thus, in order to localize a gaseous leak, it is required to fusion different sensing modalities in order to infer plausible gas distribution models that explains the acquired integral concentration measurements [3].

The prototype has been successfully validated in indoor and large outdoor environments, where artificial CH4 leaks were simulated. The results achieved during the project’s development cycle generated considerable attention from local and global media and thus, Gasbot has been showcased in different international outlets such as The Washington Post [4] and IEEE spectrum [5].

In 2012, the Gasbot research team received the “Award of distinction for environmental contributions” from Clearpath Robotics [6]. Every year, Clearpath offers a state-of-the art robotic platform to research teams from all over the world through its PartnerBot Grant Program. More than 150 universities submitted proposals for the grant and Gasbot was selected as one of the 10 recipients.

In 2013, the article “Towards Real-World Gas Distribution Mapping and Leak Localization Using a Mobile Robot with 3D and Remote Gas Sensing Capabilities”, that describes the Gasbot platform , won the “Best Service Robotics Paper Award” [7] at ICRA 2013, the largest and arguably the most prestigious conference in robotics.

The award promotes cooperation between robotics science research and industry R&D advancement in the area of service robotics applications (both professional and domestic).