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4 • OCTOBER 2015 OIL & GAS ENGINEERING It is now possible to detect gas leaks from the air using a special hyperspectral video camera, according to Robert Kester, cofounder and chief technology officer of Houston-based Rebellion Photonics, which created the technology to spot leaks. The camera can immediately find leaks in oilfields and refineries, and even determine the type of gas emit- ted. That includes methane, a powerful greenhouse gas with 25 times the climate-warming potential as carbon dioxide. “Reducing emissions is extremely important,” said Kester. “Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas. However, it is also a valuable resource for energy production and feedstock for chemicals, plastics, etc., so it’s not good business to waste it.” Hyperspectral imaging repurposed While studying cancer in pursuit of a doctorate in bioengineering at Rice University, Kester invented a hyperspectral camera that attaches to a microscope and can take pictures of cells at 30 frames/second. The device can see chemicals, allowing researchers to shoot live video of cancer cells to determine whether they are malignant or benign. Hyperspectral imaging is a way to visualize wavelengths in the electro- magnetic spectrum that are outside the range of what the human eye can see. Different minerals and gases have their own spectral fingerprint, what Kester likened to a barcode. Hyperspectral cameras are able to read these unique bar codes and represent each one as a color. Typically, these colors appear as a static image, but Kester’s camera can do the same thing in video, and in real time. After months of research and experimentation, he figured out how to harness the technology for wide- field imaging for use across oilfields. Ultimately, he came up with the gas cloud imaging camera that could see a cloud of gas in the air and show it on a live video feed. “The first time we detected methane with our camera was so cool because no one had ever done it like this before and it validated the initial hunch I had,” Kester said. The standard detectors the oil and gas industry uses for gas monitor- ing and detection cover only a small fraction of a rig or refinery, accord- ing to Kester. Furthermore, the gas fumes must touch the sensors before operators are alerted. The hyperspectral imaging camera sees gas as it escapes from the source, long before it spreads far enough to reach a remote sensor.
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