Imagine shooting a laser beam into the air over an industrial plant and being able to tell how much and what kind of greenhouse gas it is emitting. While that may sound far-fetched, that’s exactly what Alberta’s new Differential Absorption Lidar (DiAL) is capable of.

The Alberta government is challenged with monitoring and mitigating the environmental impacts of energy development in Alberta. While the province has made significant commitments to reduce GHG emissions, there remains uncertainty regarding sources and amounts of fugitive emissions.

In 2013, AI-EES teamed up with the Alberta’s Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency (AEMERA) (then still part of the Ministry of Environment and Parks, now the Environmental Monitoring and Science Division) to acquire and field test Canada’s first Differential Absorption Light Detecting and Ranging unit from the Space Dynamic Lab of Utah State University. With a target of helping the province reduce GHG emissions by 50 per cent by 2030, AI-EES is working closely with its stakeholders to improve understanding of fugitive gas emissions and how they can be reduced.

Photo:Zheng Yang (AEMERA) at the Syncrude site in Fort McMurray in August 2014.

Photo credit: Zheng Yang (EMSD) at the Syncrude site in Fort McMurray in August 2014.

“This will be an important piece of technology,” says Long Fu, Director of Standards and Technologies. “There is no other technology in Canada that can do this. Really, you can’t manage what you don’t measure and this technology will help us with reliable emission information to help inform our policies and decisions.”

Housed in a 36-foot mobile trailer, the unit has been tested and is now being deployed to monitor the particulate matter (PM), carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) at industrial sites around the province.

“AI-EES played a significant role early on in this project supporting the identification and then evaluation of the vendor (SDL) before they were chosen to design and then fabricate the DiAL unit”, says John Zhou, Chief Technical Officer, AI-EES.

The mobile unit can easily be moved from site to site and because it can measure concentrations and plumes of gas up to two kilometres away it can be located outside commercial sites so as to not interfere with daily operations. The remote sensing technology is particularly suited for measuring oil, gas, and coal plant emissions including oil sands areas like mine sites and in situ operations.

Data from the DiAL unit may be used to understand and control production practices, characterize source emissions, determine emission factors, locate fugitive emission leaks, assess plume dispersion, and confirm air dispersion modeling. This technology could provide regulators with the quantity of greenhouse gases being released at a particular location and pinpoint their sources.

Long Fu (AEMERA), Robert Lemon (Space Dynamic Lab) of Utah State University), Blake Crowther (SDL), Michael Wojcik (SDL), Quamrul Huda (AEMERA), Zheng Yang (AEMERA)

Long Fu (EMSD), Robert Lemon (Space Dynamic Lab of Utah State University), Blake Crowther (SDL), Michael Wojcik (SDL), Quamrul Huda (EMSD), Zheng Yang (EMSD)