German start-up Orbio Earth has raised €600,000 in pre-seed funding to advance its methane emissions monitoring solution.
- Orbio Earth uses satellite imagery and data fusion algorithms to monitor asset-level methane emissions.
- Methane is up to 86% more potent than CO2 within the first 20 years of its release, but estimates on global methane emissions have been significantly underestimated.
- As investors and governments begin to take more notice of methane, technologies that enable accurate measurement will be adopted at industrial scale.
Orbio uses remote sensing technology to capture high resolution satellite imagery every four days, which is then cross-analysed against non-emissions datasets to pinpoint where, when and how methane emissions are being released.
The analysis software uses proprietary data fusion algorithms, which can quantify methane emissions data from any location, to create a visual representation on an asset or portfolio-wide level. Clients can explore these insights and develop strategies to reduce their emissions, and can share the data with various stakeholders.
They can assess trends over time with a seven-year history and access recommendations on how emissions might be reduced, while stakeholders can assess their progress, benchmark different assets against one another, and manage their methane risk exposure.
Orbio has said it will initially target the oil and gas sector before expanding to cover agriculture and waste management, with the overall aim of eliminating 10 million metric tons of methane emissions by 2030.
CEO and co-founder Robert Huppertz said, “we believe that the global deployment of groundbreaking technologies like satellite-based methane monitoring, can move the needle on climate action while solving real world customer problems”.
Why focus on methane?
Methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas, with a global warming potential up to 86% stronger than CO2 within the first 20 years of its release. Although some methane is emitted naturally, it is estimated that up to 60% of methane emissions come from human activities such as oil and gas, agriculture, landfill, wastewater treatment and coal mines.
The fossil fuels industry alone, from production to end use, is thought to emit 110 million tonnes of methane each year.
Although these figures are alarming, more recent studies suggest the problem could be far worse than it first appears. The Environmental Defense Fund conducted 16 studies between 2012 and 2018, revealing that methane emissions from the US’ natural gas industry were 60% higher than previous government estimates.
Non-profit organisation Carbon Mapper conducted a similar study of shallow water offshore oil and gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, revealing that the rate of methane loss was between 23 and 66%, far higher than the 3.3 to 3.7% that had previously been disclosed by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The authors of Carbon Mapper’s research noted that few studies had been able to measure the platforms’ atmospheric methane emissions due to their remote location and the technological difficulties of monitoring methane emissions over water.
Dr Alana Ayasse, a Carbon Mapper research scientist involved in the study, said, “Bottom-up estimates and gaps in observational data can result in significant undercounting of emissions from offshore oil and gas infrastructure. This study underscores the importance of increased transparency and sustained remote monitoring in offshore oil- and gas-producing regions to inform mitigation action.”
The need for transparent data on methane emissions
As it becomes increasingly evident that the oil and gas industry’s plans for reaching net zero are not aligned with achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement, any underestimation of its impact poses an even greater threat.
Those seeking to drive the sector’s transition, either through investment or on a policy level, are in dire need of transparent data to help them in aligning their spending decisions and monitoring progress towards targets.
The Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC), for example, has called for more credible and comparable disclosures to help investors support companies that are taking demonstrable action to reduce their emissions.
Similarly, the Environmental Defense Fund’s Investor’s Guide to Methane recommends that investors seek out companies with a robust and accurate emissions inventory to help them identify companies that are less exposed to methane-related risks.
It advises investors that poor methane management is a sign of inefficient operations, which could pose significant financial risk, while increasingly strict legislation could make such investments subject to regulatory scrutiny.
This increase in legislation can be seen worldwide, with the US having already introduced an Action Plan containing rules for methane management by the oil and gas industry as well as a methane penalty charge under the Inflation Reduction Act. In Europe, meanwhile, methane emissions reduction has been a mandatory component of energy sector climate neutrality objectives since the 2020 launch of the EU Methane Strategy.
Corporations including Duke Energy and Neptune Energy have already established net zero methane emissions targets, but these targets are rendered virtually meaningless if emissions data is underestimated.
Is there hope for methane emissions reduction?
Evidently, there are substantial problems with net zero targets that fail to accurately account for methane emissions.
If, however, such data could be made available, then methane emissions could be seen as the ‘low-hanging fruit’ of the industrial transition to net zero. Indeed, the IEA estimates that it is technically possibly to mitigate around 75% of current methane emissions from global oil and gas operations.
There are already proven technologies for reducing methane emissions, which can even provide economic opportunities through the direct monetisation of methane.
To gain the benefits of technologies that reduce methane emissions, however, will require substantial investment and supportive policy. These, in turn, will only be provided with significant improvements in methane data transparency.
As investors and policy-makers become more aware of both the risks and the opportunities of methane emissions, we can expect to see an increase in the development and adoption of methane monitoring technologies.