Like Radar for Methane: LongPath Gets $189 Million Loan To Build Massive Network of Laser Towers in US Oil Patch
Startup company LongPath Technologies has received conditional federal financing to install 1,000 methane detection towers spanning multiple US states.
With the backing of a $189 million conditional loan awarded this month by the US Department of Energy (DOE), LongPath Technologies is set to build a sprawling web of 1,000 real-time methane monitoring stations in three major US oil and gas basins.
The project, called the Active Emissions Overwatch System, leverages a Nobel Prize- winning laser technology and aims to span 25 million acres—or over 3,600 square miles—across the Permian, Denver-Julesburg, and Anadarko basins.
The result will be a monitoring network that includes large swaths of oil and gas country in Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Texas. If full conditions of the loan are met, LongPath said its monitoring network might expand to as big as 24,000 square miles.
Achieving such scale relies on convincing enough operators to pay for a subscription to tap into the network which is updated as often as once every 2 hours. If that happens, LongPath thinks its multistate array of laser towers will help US onshore producers catch fugitive methane emissions equal to 6 mtpa CO2.
Sam Cummings, chief financial officer for LongPath, said in a statement regarding the loan award that the technology is poised to “set a new standard for emissions detection, localization, and quantification.”
He added, “With our rigorously accurate, real-time methane monitoring system, we are not just theorizing solutions, but actively implementing a scalable and effective approach to a pressing environmental challenge.”
The terms of the DOE’s conditional financing may include certain technical, legal, commercial, contractual, and other unspecified performance metrics.
A Weather Radar for Emissions
Founded in 2017 in Boulder, Colorado, LongPath developed what has been likened to a weather radar for emissions.
The modular stations involve a 50-ft tower atop of which sits an invisible “eye-safe” laser beam that continuously scans a nearly 8-square-mile-area to detect, locate, and quantify distinct sources of emissions. LongPath reports a detection floor of 0.06 kg/hr which means even relatively tiny leaks can be detected and rapidly responded to.
The DOE noted in its announcement of the loan that many monitoring efforts today still rely on flyovers or on-the-ground gas-imaging cameras which leave “major gaps” in the ability to account for all emissions from oil and gas facilities. The DOE said this leads to leaks going unnoticed for weeks and months, or indefinitely.
“This is particularly true because emissions are intermittent—only continuous monitoring can reliably detect these kinds of emission sources,” the DOE said in a statement.
LongPath is hoping to fill the gap with its technology which it said brings a tenfold increase in detection abilities and up to three times the measurement accuracy of point sensors.
Since starting commercial operations in 2020, LongPath said its area of coverage has grown to more than 100 square miles of oil and gas assets.
The technology has not only attracted big shale producers like Diamondback Energy and ConocoPhillips, but also led the latter to invest $7 million out of the $29.5 LongPath raised in its financing round last August. Other oil and gas investors include midstream operator Williams Companies and pressure pumping provider ProFrac.
LongPath’s ingenuity also clinched it top honors as “Best in Show” at the 2022 SPE startup competition.Held annually, the competition highlights the most promising new technology developers in the upstream business.
Driving all of this is an emergent form of spectroscopy known as the laser frequency comb which in 2005 earned its inventors, Theodore Hӓnsch of Germany and John Hall of the US, the Noble Prize in physics. Their breakthrough involved the creation of a laser that instead of sending out one beam of light is able to pulse hundreds of thousands of individual wavelengths of lights with distinct elements known as “comb teeth.”
The path to commercialization stems from Hall’s affiliation with the University of Colorado and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST) whose researchers advanced the technology. Among their contributions was the integration of low-cost fiber optics.
This critical step meant the laser frequency comb technique could be applied to the infrared spectrum which is where one finds the light absorbed by methane and other greenhouse gas molecules.