By Daniel Strain

Principal investigator
Greg Rieker

Department of Energy (DoE)

Collaboration + support
Environmental Sciences (CIRES); LongPath Technologies; Venture Partners at CU Boulder

Researcher using quantum sensor to detect methane

A team of CU Boulder engineers, and one startup company called LongPath Technologies, are taking a whiff of that Colorado air: They’re using advanced laser technology to spot methane leaking from pipes at oil and gas operations across the West.

Methane, or natural gas, emissions are a major contributor to climate change, said Greg Rieker, an associate professor of mechanical engineering. To stop them at the source, he and his colleagues have turned to a type of quantum sensor called dual frequency comb laser spectrometers. These tools can detect even minute concentrations of methane in the air—and will alert users in real time if they spot a leak. LongPath, which Rieker co-founded in 2017, has installed 23 of these sensors at natural gas facilities in four Western states.

“Now, we’re able to . . . with just one of these systems, mitigate about 80 million cubic feet of methane emissions per year,” he said.

Photo by Casey A. Cass