Innovation Gaps

Key long-term technology challenges for research, development and demonstration

Fuel supply

Alongside policy and regulation measures, developing and implementing new technologies will be essential to realise emissions reductions.

For methane, monitoring and measuring emissions on a continuous basis is a key gap for which innovation is required to identify major emission sources and assess the efficacy of emissions reduction actions. The development of new, low-cost leak detection and repair options would also encourage much more widespread adoption.

For flaring, large volumes of gas are often wasted in small-scale operations on an intermittent basis. A core challenge is to provide economically viable solutions to bring the gas to market, especially in offshore operations.

Why is this gap important?

Leak detection and repair (LDAR) programmes are one of the key instruments to reduce fugitive (or accidental) methane leaks in a cost-effective manner. LDAR programmes can be carried out at different frequencies (e.g. monthly, quarterly or yearly), and although more frequent checks will identify leaks more quickly and save more gas, the marginal cost of mitigation rises. The ability to carry out checks more frequently or – better still – on a continuous basis and at low cost would substantially reduce emissions.

Technology solutions

Current status: LDAR today tends to involve identifying emissions using infrared cameras deployed manually on the ground and repairing leaks as soon as possible. Timely identification of leaks is the key area that requires further innovation: many leaks can be repaired immediately when observed, and a significant majority can be repaired within 15 days.

Key challenges: LDAR programmes are necessary to mitigate fugitive emissions from the production, transmission or distribution segments of the value chain. However, given current technology options, travel times between often remote operations mean that inspection costs vary depending on the segment in question: e.g. it takes longer to inspect compressors on a transmission pipeline than in a concentrated production facility. A further challenge is that if the LDAR programme is discontinued, emissions can quickly increase again.

What are the leading initiatives?

  • LDAR is an active research area for many oil and gas companies (including service companies). Areas of particular interest include the use of unmanned aerial vehicles that can quickly inspect large areas (especially pipelines and major production facilities), stationary, continuous monitors that provide real-time remote alerts, and sensors mounted on operator vehicles on their daily operating rounds.
  • OGCI Climate Investments has invested in a number of start-up companies aiming to develop low-cost LDAR technologies.

Recommended actions as soon as posible

  • Policy makers should support RD&D of technologies for methane emissions detection and measurement to facilitate emissions reductions in the future.
  • Oil and gas industry should; ramp up investment to develop, test and deploy new LDAR technologies; create partnerships between national and international oil companies to promote adoption of new technologies and best practices; assess opportunities to embed methane management into digitalisation strategies and budgets.

Why is this gap important?

Emissions levels and abatement potential are based on sparse and sometimes conflicting data. There is also a wide divergence in estimated emissions at the global, regional and country levels. Accurate measurement is critical not just to advance scientific understanding of the problem but also to assess the efficacy of policy actions and to assure the public that the issue is being addressed.

Technology solutions

Current status: The two key methods for estimating emissions levels are ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’. Top-down methods measure the atmospheric concentration of methane using remote measurement devices such as permanent ground or tower-based measuring stations, or dedicated aircraft, vehicles or satellites. Measurements are then ‘inverted’ to estimate annual emissions. Bottom-up methods take measurements directly at the source (such as a leaky piece of equipment).

Key challenges: Estimate uncertainty is high with both approaches. For top-down studies, uncertainty arises from the fact that methane concentrations are measured at an elevation or at a distance from the emissions source. This complicates the attribution of emissions to specific sources, particularly if emissions events are not continuous. For bottom-up studies, the key shortcoming is that certain sources may not be detected: it is impractical and cost-prohibitive with current technologies to measure emissions from all potential sources and monitor them in real time on a continuous basis.

What are the leading initiatives?

  • The Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) Oil and Gas Methane Science Studies examined emissions from oil and gas operations in the United States. The project, which involved more than 140 researchers from over 40 institutions as well as 50 industry partners, resulted in numerous scientific papers that significantly improved understanding of emissions levels. Similar international studies are also currently under way.
  • The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is developing a satellite to be launched by 2021 to provide global, transparent, high-resolution methane emissions monitoring of oil and gas facilities.

Recommended actions as soon as possible

  • Policy makers should include a regulatory obligation to detect, quantify, monitor and mitigate methane emissions. This should include a clear set of guidelines for what is expected in terms of measuring and mitigating emissions and a common reporting mechanism.
  • Oil and gas industry should introduce or enhance efforts to quantify emissions in a rigorous way on a continuous basis; encourage other operators, especially in jointly operated assets, to do the same. Support efforts to enhance understanding of emissions levels, and to develop new quantification technologies.

Why is this gap important?

Existing flare capture technology solutions for large applications are mature and widely available. However, a large amount of flaring takes place in small-scale operations and on an intermittent basis. Gas that is flared also often contains a high level of contaminants. In these cases, it can be challenging to provide economically viable solutions to bring the gas to market, especially in offshore operations, so new solutions to utilise the gas are needed to eliminate the need for flaring. Mobile and modular gas utilisation facilities that can be deployed rapidly would also help in situations in which flared gas volumes can decline rapidly over time (such as in tight oil production).

Technology solutions

Current status: a number of flare gas recovery system technologies exist that could be employed to use the gas on-site or bring it to market. For example, some installations can convert flare gas into liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), liquefied natural gas (LNG) or compressed natural gas (CNG), and flare gas burned in incinerators can be useful to recover exhaust heat to generate steam or electricity.

Key challenges: these technologies are often not cost-effective at prevailing gas prices, so are not deployed on a widespread basis without policy support or enforcement. Reducing their costs is critical, as is funding for new technology options.

What are the leading initiatives?

  • The GGFR Partnership is a public-private initiative consisting of international and national oil companies, national and regional governments, and international institutions. The GGFR works to increase the use of natural gas associated with oil production by helping to remove technical and regulatory barriers to flaring reduction, conducting research, disseminating best practices and developing country-specific gas flaring reduction programmes.
  • The Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI), made up of thirteen major international oil and gas companies, seeks to identify and support measures that can help eliminate routine flaring by 2030.

Recommended actions as soon as possible

  • Industry should: incentivise industry parties to invest in and deploy flare capture technologies and gas utilisation technologies in new projects; stipulate and enforce zero routine flaring in oil and gas operations except in rare cases; provide a framework that can help develop infrastructure to deliver captured gas to markets.
  • Financial organisations should increase and renew willingness to provide funding for associated gas utilisation projects.
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