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  • Writer's pictureSniffer Evangelist

US EPA Approves the SnifferDRONE™ for Monitoring Landfill Methane Emissions

Updated: Apr 24

  • The first drone-based solution for emissions monitoring approved by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA)

  • The industry's best available technology for detecting methane leaks

We are pleased to announce the US EPA has just published OTM-051 - UAS application of Method 21 for Surface Emissions Monitoring. This method utilizing the SnifferDRONE, provides a more comprehensive, more effective, and safer means for identifying methane (CH4) leaks over landfills and terrestrial bodies. The new method also provides a means to more consistently apply the method - aiding in standardization via automation – to raise the performance and credibility of the overall operation. This method is the industry's best available technology for emissions monitoring, providing landfill operations an advancement to address methane emissions.

Details of the method can be found on the US EPA’s website listing Other Test Methods (OTM), or can be downloaded directly by clicking this link (pdf).

Along with the OTM, a letter approving the OTM-51 method for compliance was issued in a letter referenced as ALT-150 (Approval to Use Unmanned Aerial System Application as an Alternative Method 21 for Surface Emission Monitoring of Landfills). This document can be downloaded from the US EPA’s website for Alternative Test Methods, or directly by clicking here (pdf).

The Opportunity

Landfill gas is a byproduct of waste decomposition. Generally, landfill gas is composed of 50% odorless methane, 50% carbon dioxide, with trace amounts of odorous gases such as hydrogen sulfide (H2S) and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

The waste industry installs gas collection systems to capture landfill gas since most of this gas can be cleaned and converted to electricity (Landfill Gas to Energy) or processed into natural gas (Renewable Natural Gas - RNG). The industry also installs cover systems (soil/vegetative cover and/or geosynthetic membranes) to prevent gas from emitting.

Despite best efforts to capture the landfill gas and/or prevent emissions, a portion is emitted into the atmosphere. Emissions are generally attributed to insufficient gas collection, poor cover and/or lack of maintenance, and can also be attributed to weather and environmental conditions. According to the US EPA, over 85 million metric tons of methane was emitted from the waste industry in the United States in 2021 - the third largest industry for methane emissions.

Methane receives most of the attention due to its harm to our environment. It is widely known that methane is 80 times more impactful than carbon dioxide on warming the planet over a 20 year period and is responsible for approximately 30% of the rise in global temperatures since the Industrial Revolution. However, other gases are emitted from landfills that are problematic - especially odorous gases affecting nearby communities.

Waste industry emissions are estimated at $6 Billion. In November 2022, the US EPA presented a Draft Report on the Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases, estimating the social cost of methane at $1,600/metric ton. This cost per metric ton translates to an overall societal cost of landfill methane emissions of over $136 billion annually. The opportunity to reduce landfill emissions offers direct financial benefits to operations and quality of life benefits to society as a whole.

The Value of Hyper-Local

New aerial technologies are entering the market to better account for landfill emissions. These technologies include satellites, manned aircraft, and other drone-based technologies. But the SnifferDRONE's "hyper-local" solution is unique in its ability to collect air samples directly at the ground surface, measure the methane concentration within the collected air samples in parts per million (ppm) and correlate the measurements to discrete latitude/longitude coordinates during flight. This data is then transformed to provide specific leak locations consistent with US EPA regulations as actionable information. The data can also be transformed to estimate fugitive gas emissions, and presented on a temporal basis to understand gas migration on the site in conjunction with operational changes.

Since 2019, the SnifferDRONE has been tested and utilized in operations by waste companies for assessing emissions at select sites. The technology provided operations new insights to improve landfill gas collection and improve overall operation and maintenance efforts. To date the system has been deployed at 28 states on over 150 landfills, leading to the identification of more than 16,500 leak sources.

Bottom line - the SnifferDRONE finds more leak sources precisely and accurately and when used in accordance with OTM-51 does so in compliance with US EPA regulations.

Besides the environmental benefit of finding more leak sources, the system also provides landfills and their gas operations the ability to improve revenue by collecting and converting/processing gas for energy that would otherwise be lost to the atmosphere. SnifferDRONE data transformed to gas flux estimates with specific leak locations can be expressed as lost revenue used for return on investment calculations.

Finding more leaks also proved useful in helping sites reduce odor sources. Though methane is odorless, leak sources may also emit odorous gases. Since the SnifferDRONE identifies more leak sources, sites have demonstrated the usefulness of using the SnifferDRONE to better address odor sources.

The US EPA approval allows the SnifferDRONE to be used as a pre-screening emissions monitoring tool for quarterly compliance purposes. The adoption of the OTM-51 method provides standardization in application method and reporting, helpful in driving better consistency in performance.

With today's realization that industry needs innovative tools and improved methods to deal with methane emissions, we believe the SnifferDRONE offers the industry the next and best step forward to better address emissions.

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