Nobel-prize winning laser research sees new application: Greenhouse gas detection

Apr 4, 2018

This 19-inch field instrument uses lasers to detect methane leaks from miles away.
Credit University of Colorado Boulder

A team of researchers from the University of Colorado-Boulder has developed a new instrument to detect methane leaks.



Oil and gas companies are required to monitor for methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas. The current practice only captures a snapshot in time. About once a year, someone drives out to the site with a camera that can spot methane gas to detect any leaks.

“These leaks are not necessarily on all the time; they can be intermittent,” explained Caroline Alden, a researcher at CU-Boulder’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES).


It’s not clear how often leaks go undetected, but Alden and a team of researchers think they have a solution.


They have developed a new field instrument that uses lasers to detect methane leaks from miles away. It can be set up for days or weeks at a time and collect non-stop data. It can also monitor multiple operations at once.


The technology is based on Nobel-prize winning laser research at CU-Boulder in the early 2000s. It is now being tested at two sites in Colorado.