Industrial methane emissions are 100 times higher than reported, researchers say

Industrial methane emissions are 100 times higher than reported, researchers say
A Cornell-Environmental Defense Fund research team equipped a Google Street View car with a high-precision methane sensor and found methane emissions from ammonia fertilizer plants to be 100 times higher than the fertilizer industry’s self-reported estimate. Credit: Cornell University

Emissions of methane from the industrial sector have been vastly underestimated, researchers from Cornell and Environmental Defense Fund have found.

Using a Google Street View car equipped with a high-precision methane sensor, the researchers discovered that from ammonia plants were 100 times higher than the fertilizer industry's self-reported estimate. They also were substantially higher than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimate for all in the United States.

"We took one small industry that most people have never heard of and found that its methane emissions were three times higher than the EPA assumed was emitted by all industrial production in the United States," said John Albertson, co-author and professor of civil and environmental engineering. "It shows us that there's a huge gap between a priori estimates and real-world measurements."

The researchers' findings are reported in "Estimation of Methane Emissions From the U.S. Ammonia Fertilizer Industry Using a Mobile Sensing Approach," published May 28 in Elementa. The work was funded in part by a grant from the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future's joint research program with EDF.

The use of has grown in recent years, bolstered by improved efficiency in shale gas extraction and the perception that natural gas is a less dirty fossil fuel.

"But natural gas is largely methane, which molecule-per-molecule has a stronger global warming potential than carbon dioxide," Albertson said. "The presence of substantial emissions or leaks anywhere along the supply chain could make natural gas a more significant contributor to climate change than previously thought."

To date, methane emissions have been assessed at a variety of sites—from the well pads where natural gas is extracted to the power plants and municipal pipelines downstream.

To evaluate methane emissions from downstream industrial sources, the researchers focused on the fertilizer industry, which uses natural gas both as the fuel and one of the main ingredients for ammonia and urea products. Ammonia fertilizer is produced at only a couple dozen plants in the U.S.; factories are often located near public roadways, where emissions carried downwind can be detected—in this case by mobile sensors.

For this study, the Google Street View vehicle traveled public roads near six representative fertilizer plants in the country's midsection to quantify "fugitive methane emissions—defined as inadvertent losses of methane to the atmosphere, likely due to incomplete chemical reactions during fertilizer production, incomplete fuel combustion or leaks.

Once a concentrated methane plume was detected downwind of a plant, the emissions were measured through dozens of laps around the facility.

The team discovered that, on average, 0.34% of the gas used in the plants is emitted to the atmosphere. Scaling this rate from the six plants to the entire industry suggests total annual methane emissions of 28 gigagrams—100 times higher than the fertilizer industry's self-reported estimate of 0.2 gigagrams per year.

In addition, this figure far exceeds the EPA's estimate that all industrial processes in the United States produce only 8 gigagrams of methane emissions per year.

"Even though a small percentage is being leaked, the fact that methane is such a powerful greenhouse gas makes the small leaks very important," said Joseph Rudek, co-author and lead senior scientist at Environmental Defense Fund. "In a 20-year timeframe, 's global warming potential is 84 times that of carbon dioxide."

The study demonstrates that mobile sensing is an economical way to pinpoint significant emissions sources and enable rapid and efficient mitigation—vital for rapidly reducing the rate of warming. Albertson is also optimistic about the broad application of mobile sensors, which could be deployed on vehicles such as school buses and postal trucks to characterize sources and rates of pollution—and perhaps influence policymakers.

"Pollution in the air doesn't respect property boundaries, so even if you don't have access to private land, the current revolution in sensor technologies allows us a lens into the degree of cleanliness of a factory," Albertson said. "With opportunistic sensing, pushing data to the cloud, doing the proper analysis and drawing inferences, we can build environmental policy that is based on evidence."


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More information: Xiaochi Zhou et al, Estimation of methane emissions from the U.S. ammonia fertilizer industry using a mobile sensing approach, Elem Sci Anth (2019). DOI: 10.1525/elementa.358
Provided by Cornell University
Citation: Industrial methane emissions are 100 times higher than reported, researchers say (2019, June 7) retrieved 24 August 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-06-industrial-methane-emissions-higher.html
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Jun 07, 2019
If methane emissions have been grossly underestimated, then the mechanisms that regulate atmospheric "greenhouse gases" must also be grossly underestimated.

Jun 07, 2019
Did you read a different article? This one's about gross underestimations from the methane-producing industries -- you know, the industries that have an obvious interest in making low estimates of their own emissions.

It's basically about their being caught out making up numbers that suit their own purposes.

Nothing else, except for innovative techniques to catch the liars.

Jun 07, 2019
And what will be done about this? Nothing.

Jun 08, 2019
If methane emissions have been grossly underestimated, then the mechanisms that regulate atmospheric "greenhouse gases" must also be grossly underestimated.

I don't think that is needed, esp. in connection to methane. Too little of it up there to matter significantly.

But if the permafrost thaws or the oceans start venting methane... back to the Cretaceous we go. Siberia and northern Canada will be all about agriculture.

Jun 08, 2019
What are the Canadians going to grow stuff on? Looks like tundra from here. And the good land won't have enough water.

Jun 09, 2019
Still waiting for dairy farms to return to Greenland and vineyards to Northern Europe. Both were extant for hundreds of years, both ceased due to climate cooling. The climate remains too cool.

Jun 09, 2019
The climate seems to have been growing a lot of wheat and corn in the US Midwest. Now it seems to be flooding. Whatcha gonna eat?

Jun 09, 2019
It was 15 degrees C warmer for most Earth's history, with plenty of life everywhere.

I have to keep reminding geniuses about this basic fact of our temperature history.

Then I get responses like: "The Sun was dimmer back then".... what? lol

Jun 09, 2019
It was 15 degrees C warmer for most Earth's history,


No it wasn't
https://en.wikipe...e_record

Jun 09, 2019
Noted you don't wanna talk about where you're gonna grow the wheat and corn after it gets hot and dry.

Typical liar denier.

Jun 09, 2019
Say what? Industry self reported values aren't in line with reality?
No. Really? Do tell.

Seriously: As soon as you use the word 'self' in conjunction with industry (as in "self-policing", "self-reporting", or "self-limiting2) you can stop right there. It's not going to work.

The only 'self' they know is: "self-serving".

Jun 09, 2019
Noted you don't wanna talk about where you're gonna grow the wheat and corn after it gets hot and dry.

Typical liar denier.

Da Schitts, brays again.
Noted, he does not talk about all the "meat" his boyfriend stuffs down his throat and the methane that comes from it.
Typical knob gobbling Chicken shit, jackass.

Jun 09, 2019
Huh. Heres another major new factor that scientists knew absolutely nothing about. And they're looking far harder for corroborating evidence like this than they are contrary evidence. I wonder how much of THAT there is yet to be found?

And according to AOC this is all settled science.

Doesnt look like settled science. Not at all, no sir.

Jun 09, 2019
Say what? Industry self reported values aren't in line with reality?
No. Really? Do tell
So current models have dire predictions based on accumulated data. Then a factor like this pops up. Does it mean that things are going to get worse faster, or does it mean that because there is a lot more greenhouse gases around than originally thought, their effect on climate change is a whole lot LESS than the models predict?

I would guess the latter but then I think guessing about science is bad form.

But I would guess the latter.
Noted you don't wanna talk about where you're gonna grow the wheat and corn after it gets hot and dry
Greenland. Lots if good soil under that ice cap yessir.

Jun 10, 2019
Midwest farms flooding, eat fish. Northern Canada heating up, eat bugs.

Jun 10, 2019
Did you read a different article? This one's about gross underestimations from the methane-producing industries -- you know, the industries that have an obvious interest in making low estimates of their own emissions.

It's basically about their being caught out making up numbers that suit their own purposes.

Nothing else, except for innovative techniques to catch the liars.


We read the same article. You got the author's polemical intent: industry lies!

But you missed my point completely: If inputs are much greater than the models PREDICATE, then the processes that recycle CO2 must be greater than modeled. So the models are way wrong about a fundamental process which supposedly drives global warming.

Furthermore, if Gold's theory of abiotic oil is correct, the planet is exuding massive amounts of methane, both undersea and from land, and that input has yet to be accurately quantified.

Jun 10, 2019
Orleans. Anonym I meant a +1 because I agree with you.

Jun 18, 2019
Ammonia is produced FROM methane. The purpose of all industry is to make a profit. The ammonia industry does not emit methane on purpose anymore than you spill gasoline on purpose while filling your car. These methane emissions are certainly leaks which are lost profits since they have to purchase the methane (natural gas) in the first place. Maybe, just maybe, they didn't know about the "emissions"? Maybe they would like to know where they are coming from too? You know, in order to FIX them to make more PROFITS!
If anybody is offended by common sense then I respect your right to be offended.

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