Ayana Alemayehu: Solving Methane Leaks

Combating climate CH4ange

It’s a troubling reality that most Americans are unaware of just how much methane is leaked into the air as a result of old, damaged, or weak gas pipelines. Methane makes up 95% of the natural gas in pipelines and is at least 25 times more potent of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, making it a major threat when considering global warming and our futures. This problem, like many others that our environment currently faces, stems from major gas companies. In fact, these companies estimate that for every 100 cubic feet of gas sent out, only 96-97 cubic feet reach their destinations. This fall, our community in Andover and Lawrence saw how detrimental gas leaks can be to our safety, businesses, and livelihoods. Unfortunately ours was not an isolated issue, in fact these problems occur on a national scale, dangerously and disproportionately affecting communities with poor infrastructure and older pipelines as or cities in earthquake prone areas.

Our goal is to develop a tool capable of sensing gas leaks and relaying information to a phone or computer using methane sensors, GPS trackers, and mounts that can be planted within Andover and nearby cities. Our research will begin with finding equipment suitable for detecting leaks while still being affordable to buy in bulk. Then, through field testing, we will determine optimal locations where leaks in pipelines are most prevalent. And throughout this process, we will be gathering as much data as possible to refine our prototypes into a finished product.

The imagined final solution will require minimal maintenance, collect accurate and useful data, be easily accessible in terms of price and usability, and create connections through which we can report our findings as immediately as possible to first responders in the event of a gas leak. In the future, we would also like to work on the addition of other sensors (general air quality, other greenhouse gases, etc.), different attachments (ground spike, wall attachment, roof attachment, etc.), and the addition of solar panels to make the product self-sustaining. Beyond this product, we are also considering developing an app that connects personal sensors to phones and a public website that allows anyone to access data about the area they live in, spreading awareness about the dangers of methane in our environment and working toward fighting it.

Other Methane Leaks Lab Team Members: CC Song.

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