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Methane leak tech is having a moment

Photo illustration of a pipeline with abstract shapes.

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photo: Ashley Cooper/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images

Momentum is gaining around technology built to check for methane leaks as consensus grows around the need to stop the potent greenhouse gas from escaping.

Why it matters: Methane, the largest component of natural gas, makes up 20% of greenhouse gas emissions and can be up to 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide for heating the atmosphere.

Driving the news: On Friday, the Department of Energy's Loan Programs Office awarded a conditional commitment for a $189 million loan guarantee to methane detection company LongPath Technologies.

  • Boulder, Colo.-based LongPath builds towers across oil and gas infrastructure that use laser beams to pinpoint where methane is leaking and charges customers a subscription fee.
  • The tech — funded early on by the DOE's ARPA-E program — is supposed to be lower cost compared with traditional tech and able to deliver close to real-time data on leak detection to companies.
  • The loan commitment is for helping LongPath deploy 1,000 of its towers across 25 million acres of land across states, which it says will be able to prevent methane emissions equivalent to at least six million tons of carbon dioxide per year.

Catch up quick: Because methane is colorless and odorless, many oil and gas companies have long been ignorant of how much has been leaking.

  • Companies typically scan new facilities a few times a year using optical gas imaging cameras operated by people on the ground.
  • Newer tech uses those cameras and sensors overhead via planes and satellites. There's a group of methane-sensing satellites that are being launched by companies like GHGSat and nonprofit Carbon Mapper.
  • Another set of companies, like NevadaNano and SLB, are riding the wave of connected devices and using small sensors placed on oil and gas infrastructure to send continuous data about leaks to customers.

What they're saying: Environmentalists and policymakers are advocating real-time detection to eliminate leaks.

  • "If you let even a small leak go for weeks or months, a huge amount of gas is lost," Greg Rieker, Chief Technology Officer of LongPath told Axios.
  • Shortly after the news of the conditional loan award on Friday, New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich said via X: "We need real time monitoring to rein in fossil fuel pollution."

Big picture: Governments are in rare consensus to collectively reduce global methane emissions 30% by 2030.

  • At COP28, the Biden administration announced mandates for the fossil fuel industry to replace leaky gear and routinely search for escaped emissions.
  • Oil and gas companies are also interested in deploying the technology because the gas saved from leaks saves them money.

What's next: Expect to see more startups working on methane monitoring software and hardware, and investors scrambling to fund them.

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