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Yotam Ariel is the CEO fo Bluefield Technologies, Inc., a startup using microsatellites to measure methane gas leaks and emissions.
ODP: How does your technology work?
YA: Sunlight that has passed through methane contains a unique spectral signal that can be detected by Bluefield’s proprietary optical sensor. We integrate our sensor into a backpack-size microsatellite and launch it to space. As the satellite orbits Earth, our sensor tracks each of the millions of emitting sources around the world. The scale, speed, and low cost at which we collect this precise data are unprecedented.
ODP: Your vision is for your company to be the Earth’s breathing monitor — can you explain? Who will pay you for this service?
YA: We’re working to create something like Google Maps, but instead of just seeing an address, we’ll see every critical emitter on the planet, in near real-time. Such emissions data is valuable for oil and gas companies and other sectors to detect and fix methane leaks, as well as protect them from legal and financial liability. We’re already working with several of the world’s largest oil and gas companies, as well as two government agencies.
ODP: Of all the greenhouse gasses, why methane? Will you track other greenhouse gasses in the future?
YA: Methane is responsible for 25% of global warming, and knowing who is emitting, when, and how much, would have a massive impact in combatting climate change. In the next few years, we will be expanding our monitoring capacity to include CO2, SO2, NO2.
ODP: What is a microsatellite and how affordable and precise is it? Could the leakage data be validated or certified for an enforcement proceeding?
YA: A microsatellite is any satellite with a weight between 20 and 200 pounds. For our size microsatellite, the cost to build and deploy it in space is several millions of dollars. The precision depends on the sensor that’s in the satellite. Our sensor can pinpoint the exact emitting source, for example, a specific oil & gas wellhead. We’re working with experts such as Berkeley Lab to validate our data by taking sample measurements and then calibrating our satellite sensor.
ODP: There are lots of methane leaks in Texas and other states that are “free” — either unregulated or the rules against flaring are unenforced — so the companies are wasting ridiculous amounts of gas with abandon. How would you change the incentives on that? Price on carbon or limitation on flaring?
YA: Our sensors will be an essential tool for any solution — whether it is a price on carbon or the development of market-driven trading like https://www.xpansiv.com/, which allows greater transparency in the production process.
ODP: Could you make the leakage information available to the public so that citizens and health care professionals and governments can know when they are living and/or working in an area with lots of leaks?
YA: There are a great many uses for the data that we will be collecting and we look forward to working with policymakers, the private sector, and concerned citizens to achieve a variety of worthwhile objectives.
Thanks, Yotam – what a great technological advance! Good luck scaling it further – we need this kind of detection to achieve emissions goals.
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