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Final Report: Low Cost Imager for Pollutant Gas Leak DetectionEPA Contract Number: EPD08017
Title: Low Cost Imager for Pollutant Gas Leak Detection
Investigators: Domash, Lawrence H.
Small Business: Agiltron Inc.
EPA Contact: Manager, SBIR Program
Project Period: March 3, 2008 through August 31, 2008
Project Amount: $69,952
RFA: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) - Phase I (2008) RFA Text | Recipients Lists
Research Category: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) , SBIR - Air Pollution
For controlling leaks of regulated gases in an industrial plant, pipeline or local business, the key requirement is to quickly find and localize the point of emission because leaks rarely recur in the same spot more than once. For all gases with optical absorption bands in the mid- or long-wave infrared (IR), IR cameras are the most desirable means for visualizing leaks in real time. However, the only IR camera systems specialized for leak detection to reach the market to date are relatively insensitive, do not distinguish specific gases, and are far too costly ($75 to100K) for use by entities such as supermarkets, heating or A/C contractors, or for widespread deployment on oil/gas pipelines.
In Phase I, Agiltron combined several technologies to address this problem. First and foremost, Agiltron is developing a new infrared camera technology, LightLever™, which will be an order of magnitude less expensive than any existing imager. This is due to Agiltron’s innovative MEMS chip that converts thermal infrared radiation into a visible light image, which then can be recorded by an ordinary low-cost cell phone camera. Second, Agiltron is an infrared optics company with techniques available for filtering and controlling IR radiation and fabricating lenses of molded chalcogenide glasses. Third, image signal-to-noise ratios can be significantly enhanced by Agiltron proprietary image processing algorithms. Using these methods, we performed laboratory studies to observe leaks of methane, our example gas target in Phase I.
Phase I research successfully demonstrated sensitive leak location for methane at the level of 20 SCFH (cubic feet per hour at standard temperature and pressure) (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. Agiltron camera finding methane leak 20 SCFH image (blue) in an outdoor test.
We were able to detect leaks using our proprietary IR filtering/image processing techniques using either of the methane absorption bands, 3.3 μm or 7.9 μm. Our results will now allow design decisions about the effectiveness of various optical or image processing enhancement techniques and give sufficient data to allow optimization of the Agiltron LightLever™ chip design to maximize sensitivity in Phase II development.
Our Phase I data supported the feasibility of a compact, handheld, battery-operated Agiltron gas leak finder camera about the volume and weight of a digital camera, with an end user cost of about $2,000. Such a product would revolutionize the control of leaks of regulated gases and allow small companies, contractors, supermarkets and other local businesses to meet present or future U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations.