Published: July 24, 2018

University-industry working group aims to reduce methane emissions

For research universities and private sector organizations, public-private collaborations have never been more important. With threats to university research funding sources and constant competitive pressure on industry players, these partnerships offer opportunities for collaborators to augment their own strengths and opportunities with outside capabilities through strategic yet flexible collaborations.  

For a real-world example of the potential of such alliances, look no further than the Operational Renegade Gas (ORG) working group convened in 2017 by the University of Colorado Boulder.  

The group’s second annual symposium—established by CU Boulder’s Office of Industry Collaboration (OIC) and the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and sponsored by the Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute (RASEI)—was designed to expedite solutions for the marketplace that identify and reduce methane emissions for the oil and gas industry.

Industry attendees included both prominent members and technological suppliers to the oil and gas community. Oil and gas production participants included representatives from Anadarko, BP, Cheniere, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Noble Energy, Pioneer Resources and Shell. Participants from the supplier side included AirSure, Ball Aerospace, GHGSat, Longpath, Mpod, Quanta3 and SeekOps.

University attendees represented a wide range of subject matter and organizational perspectives. Among others, Associate Professor Mike Hannigan (Mechanical Engineering), Bob McGrath (RASEI), Bud Pope (Research & Innovation Office; Industry Collaboration), Assistant Professor Greg Rieker (Mechanical Engineering), Thomas Sparn (Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Sciences, or LASP) and Professor Kristy Tiampo (Geological Sciences; Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, or CIRES) contributed. 

The inaugural 2017 symposium

When the group first met last year, they set up working models to allow for a free flow of ideas and sustainable pathways to turn conversations into action. 

One key outcome in 2017 was a successful field test campaign with multiple suppliers identifying and measuring methane leaks in the Colorado State University-based Methane Emissions Technology Evaluation Center (METEC) field test site funded by ARPA-E. Results were reviewed during this year’s meeting, in cooperation with METEC. 

Additionally, pilot programs between CU Boulder research solutions and industry have been underway since early 2018, with commercial acceptance expected in the next 12 months. 

Building momentum in 2018 and beyond

This year’s symposium kicked off with a level-setting discussion about balancing current technology and regulatory requirements, followed by a wide-ranging session where industry partners shared real-world challenges related to methane emissions in oilfields—domestically and globally—along with dialogue about current approaches. 

Next came discussions of operational challenges faced by members working to test current and future solutions, especially the need for robust, accessible testing facilities to facilitate development of next-generation capabilities. 

The growth of interest in this topic—from regulators, industry, research and suppliers—has led to an explosion of competing interests and confusion about capabilities and paths forward. One outcome of the symposium is to provide an avenue for real-time discussion of what is realistic and possible to meet the industry’s needs in the coming years.

After establishing a thorough understanding of the current oil and gas environment, the group transitioned to presentations of upcoming CU Boulder academic offerings and discussion about research needs relevant to methane detection. Rieker and representatives from LASP and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) led the research discussion, which focused on space-based solutions, regional studies and next-generation methane research. 

The group also discussed new areas of possible cooperation, including water and geohazards, and wrapped up the symposium with an eye on expanding collaboration in the coming year.