US EPA uses drones to find source of methane leak at landfill

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) has approved the use of a drone-based solution to detect methane leaks from municipal solid waste landfills, according to DroneDJ. According to the EPA, Sniffer Robotics' SnifferDRONE approach to monitoring methane emissions from landfills could serve as an alternative to existing federal regulations, with certain limitations.

SnifferDRONE is a "hyper-local" solution that equips a drone with a closed-path methane detector. It works by collecting air samples directly at the surface, measuring the methane concentration (ppm) in those samples, and comparing the measurements with discrete
Latitude and longitude coordinates are linked. Waste management companies have been testing and utilizing this technology since 2019. More specifically, the drone-based system has been deployed to date in 28 states and more than 150 landfills, resulting in the identification of more than 16,500 sources of methane leaks.

In 2021, the waste industry was the third-largest U.S. emitter of methane, an odorless gas that warms the planet 80 times more than carbon dioxide over 20 years. Methane is also thought to be responsible for about 30 percent of the increase in global temperatures since the Industrial Revolution. Reducing methane emissions is necessary to limit climate change. In addition, there are some emissions that, if captured and converted into energy, could bring in about $6 billion in annual revenue based on estimates from renewable natural gas (RNG).

But that's only part of the story. Traditional methods of monitoring emissions are physically demanding and labor-intensive. In a normal landfill, the operator may end up working on irregular landfills with steep slopes and dense vegetation under varying environmental and weather conditions (snow/ice/rain/extreme temperatures)
Then walk about 15 miles on the terrain. They may slip, trip or fall, or encounter wild animals (eg snakes, dogs, alligators, mice) or dangerous vectors (eg ticks, scorpions). Of course, there is also the danger of exposure to dump gases.

So if a drone solution can provide a more comprehensive, efficient, and safer means of identifying methane leaks over landfills, why not use it, especially when you have the opportunity to standardize the process through automation ? The oil and gas industry is already doing this to reduce its methane emissions.