Remote Natural Gas

The Challenge

PSI's 18 year history of R&D in the area of tunable diode laser absorption spectroscopy has resulted in a number of technologies that illustrate the PSI process. By 1998, our experience with numerous trace gas sensor development efforts based on tunable diode laser absorption built a deep understanding of this technology within PSI's scientific and engineering staff. In parallel, technology advances in low-cost digital signal processors and optical telecommunication equipment suggested to us that a light-weight, battery-power portable sensor might be possible.

The PSI Process

This concept was developed with support from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through an SBIR program, where the initial application was expected to be hazardous gas leak detection in chemical processing plants.

Performance modeling and laboratory testing of key components showed that it was possible to make sensitive gas measurements using a single-ended sensor where the operator directs a low-power, invisible laser beam into the environment and collects the returned power by reflection from natural objects such as buildings, grass, bushes, etc. One of the most important insights in this phase was that the largest market for such a sensor was the natural gas distribution industry, where regular monitoring of pipeline leaks represents a costly and time-consuming expense.

With this insight, PSI contacted local and regional gas distribution companies -eventually identifying regional technology development consortia responsible for investing in promising new technology for the natural gas industry. We also identified the key companies already selling natural gas leak detection equipment and put into place a joint development agreement with the industry leader.

This partnership between PSI, an instrument manufacturer, and the user community resulted in additional EPA support and, in parallel, natural gas industry funding (which subsequently considerably exceeded the US government funding) to develop and field-test portable prototype sensors. The partners contributed invaluable specification, operation, and manufacturing constraints to our evolving design.

The Result

This product development activity led to a technology license agreement between PSI and the instrument manufacturer, Heath Industries. The product was introduced into the commercial marketplace in April of 2003 and we have thus far sold over 800, thus completing the final stage of the PSI process. For more details on this technology, see the Diode Laser Sensor Product page.