Infrared industry veteran and optical gas imaging expert, Jeff Leak, gave an informative and insightful presentation at the 2021 Methane Strategies Forum in Houston, Texas. Leake, the VP of Sales for Sierra-Olympic Technologies, discussed current OGI technology and trends as well as what he sees coming in the near future.

Talking points include:

  • Background on Sierra-Olympic Technologies and the company’s extensive history in the infrared industry.
  • Introduction into optical gas imaging technology, how it works and why it’s an important technology for the oil and gas industry.
  • In-depth look at the industry’s first 640 x 512 resolution OGI camera, the Ventus OGI by Sierra-Olympic.
  • Integration successes with OGI imagers built into a variety of manned and unmanned systems.
  • Insight and projections on the evolution and future of optical gas imaging technology as we see it.

Complete transcription:

We’re here to talk about Sierra-Olympic Technologies and optical gas imaging. We’re a small company, about forty employees and we specialize in providing both standard products and customized products as well. And everything that we do is internally funded. So we do have a lot of experience with Mid-wave, long-wave and short-wave infrared cameras, integrated dewar-cooler assemblies, electronics, firmware and software. Also we’ve done a lot of innovation with both fixed focal length lenses and continuous optical zoom lenses and we have to be very conscientious about export of this technology everything we do is what is referred to as non-ITAR and allows us to be able to sell to most places in the world

Our company is located in Hood River, Oregon it’s about sixty miles due east of Portland, Oregon. There we have our corporate offices, our manufacturing we also have satellite offices where I’m located in Dallas as well as in Atlanta. Our primary markets are unmanned vehicle imaging applications, persistent security and surveillance, and what we’re going to talk about today which is industrial and optical gas imaging cameras.

So we’ll touch on the type of detector materials we use in these products, the resolutions, lenses, firmware, and software and applications.

So the first thing here is the camera that we introduced several years ago which was innovative in the fact that we were the first company to deploy what’s called a HOT mid-wave detector. Before that, previously, these mid-wave

Before that previously these midwave detectors called indiom antimodide detectors generally had to be cooled to cryogenic temps, about 77 K. HOT midwave means high-operating temperature, so we didn’t have to now cool that detector as cold as previously; they operate at about 150 K. The benefit of that is that it basically reduces the load or the work on the cooler. It actually improves the reliability, gives it longer operating hours. But it also is very important because it allows you to reduce the size, weight and power (SWaP). We went from much larger cameras that weighed several pounds, now we’re able to do that in a product that weights a little over a ½ pound or 500 grams.

The other thing that happened is for years and years, part of my background is I was originally involved in the first optical gas imaging camera that was developed from about 1999 to 2003. There we started off with about 320 x 240 resolution, or what is known as ¼ VGA. And that’s actually been the standard for fifteen, almost twenty years, until we introduced a VGA resolution or 640 x 512 (VGA). So the benefit there is you’ve got about four times as many pixels, and the benefit obviously there is that you’re putting more pixels on target. You have higher resolution, making it easier to basically see these gas leaks, either smaller ones or from farther distances. The other thing that we did is we optimized the lens. We reduced the size and weight of it significantly. We put special coatings on that lens so it lines up on an OGI camera, you’re putting a narrow band pass cold filter in the cold section of the camera where it’s sensitive to about 3.2 to 3.4 µm. And we did essentially the same thing with the lens. We’re trying to get every photon that you can get into the camera to strike the detector, and do that in an optimized way.

And then the other thing we did obvious, when we introduced the product we went through the testing to meet the OOOOa certification.

So here’s a short video, of a manned aircraft. In this case the camera is integrated into a five-axis stabilized gimbal. This particular company is an aerial inspection company. When we first started in this industry this gentleman named David Furry with a company called Leak Surveys out of Brownwood Texas was the very first person to really start using and helped us with the development of the cameras. This is integrated with a visible light camera. And then we have the OGI, you just saw that from the presentation before, so obviously the benefit of OGI is it allows you to see where the point source of the leak is emanating from. It’s very visual obviously; not only is it doing the detection it’s doing the visualization as well.

These are a series of well pads, and also tank batteries with vents that are leaking, thief hatches, piping, flares as mentioned before. All of these things are shown here.

And we do also see it the same way as the previous speaker, kind of a layered approach, you can use multiple technologies. One of the moves that we’re now seeing, a lot of companies wanting to be able to integrate this with either sniffers, or with TD-loss lasers for doing the quantification.

Here’s another example of how the cameras are being used on fixed wing, aerial platforms, again with gimbals or some people have even done some fixed mounts. Obviously for drones because of the small size and weight we’ve been able to integrate it onto a number of platforms – that’s the DJI M300 or the M210 Version 2 it can be integrated with. There’s another company called Evolve Dynamics, they have a multi-rotor as well. Their gimbal is on the front of their UAV.

Here’s another video, that’s the M210 there, again the version 2, a short video showing you some of the capabilities. That platform is very stable, it enables us to use a mode in our product which is referred to as the gas enhancement mode – that is then going to colorize the gas leaks, so it makes it easier for the human eye to differentiate that. You can adjust the sensitivity on that to make it such that, depending on how still it is, or how sensitive you want to make it, makes it easier for the operator to visualize the gas leaks.

This also has digital zoom, you have a 1x 2x and 4x digital zoom capability so you don’t have to move any closer to the target or to the area of concern.

The camera has 32 gigabyte digital storage capability. You can store video sequences or you can store still frames. For OOOOa requirements typically you’re going to record at least ten-seconds of video and usually you’re going to be recording a visible light image with it as well. But again with the resolution it’s almost like looking at a black and white picture. It’s very clear, it’s very sharp, it’s very definitive.

Audience question: Are there certain conditions that are better or worse for optical gas imaging?

Jeff answer: The answer to that is generally, yes. It’s better to have a larger delta t between the background and the gas.

So, the camera is doing two things: with that narrow band pass filter it looks at the absorption of the gas. But also generally speaking most of the industry uses about a 3° C delta T, it can be colder or it can be warmer, but you want that delta T. So if it’s a sunny day or a partly sunny day that’s obviously better because you have more thermal loading and the greater the delta T again the more visual that it becomes. It can be done 24 hours per day. Even at nighttime, that sort of thing, if you have a hot day or something like that you still have the residual heat and you can use it 24 hours a day.

The other thing you have to be careful with is wind, if you get into high winds that sort of thing it disperses the gas, pushes it. So usually and especially with limitations on the aircraft, most people aren’t going to fly over about a 25 mph wind speed.

What will also happen, if you have a cold background like snow or ice that’s going to now be dark, basically it’s going to be cool the gas is going to appear to be white. Everything we’ve seen here the background is warmer so the gas appears to be dark or cool and so it’s just the opposite.

All the cameras have the ability to do what’s called invert polarity: so if you wanted to, for instance the EPA makes all operators generally use white for the gas no matter what. So they always try to make the background dark so the image is consistent no matter where they’re at so gas always appears to be white.

Here’s another implementation, SPOT, there’s a company called MFE and they’ve integrated the Ventus OGI onto Spot, for doing a robotic type of route with the system. And also that can be taken off of that particular product Can also get removed from the Spot system, and it’s converted into just a little handheld product with an android phone interface. So it has a lot of versatile uses. And from there you can actually remove the screen and you can mount that onto a drone platform. So it’s a multi-use product.

The other things that’s now starting to happen is We’re now working with a number of companies that are doing continuous monitoring and using Edge computing also using AI (artificial intelligence) AI.

You see the camera mounted in an enclosure, it’s a pressurized enclosure, so it’s obviously weather proof, in this particular case it is a class I div II enclosure and so it just learns the scene. [referring to a slide 14:48?] It’s on a pan and tilt so it does a 360° loop, and stops and stares at the various pieces of equipment that they want to look at. As it learns it over time if there’s something like in the bottom image you start to see the gas leak. It has regions of interest that surround where the gas is going. It then highlights it and colorizes it, much like we do in the gas enhancement mode. The final part, they are optically quantifying that as well. They’re not using any other sensors at this point. They learn the scene and then they’re able to use the quantifications so that they can set alarms and from the alarms those drive into a SCADA system, a PLC, a digital control system. And that basically tells the operator   Quantifying the data to set alarms for digital control systems. And that tells operator to investigate the scene further. That video is not even being shown in a control room. It only comes up when they need to look at it, when it’s indicated that there’s a gas leak at the facility.

With the way the regulations appear to be headed continuous monitoring is going to be a very important thing. That is also why on this camera with the HOT mid-wave infrared detector the increased reliability of the integrated dewar cooler assembly is really important because now you’re doing this twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days per year. Going forward that’s going to be a very important part with the way the regulations are headed.

With HOT Mid wave IR detector, increased reliability super important for 7 days/week 365 days/year. Very important part of complying with coming regulations.

We provide the electronics in this product, these are some of the capabilities…it uses different interfaces, uses h dot 264 analog video, also digital camera link as well, the onboard image processing are things like automatic gain and level control, CLAHE (Contrast Limited Adaptive Histogram Equalization), local area processing, our gas enhancement mode. All of these things again to make it easier on the operator – to make it more of a point and shoot.

There are capabilities with the encoder that we use also for adding target tracking, telemetry, NMAE and GPS data.

From what we’re seeing in the industry I think quantification being added to OGI is a very important step. So you use the OGI camera, especially from an aerial platform to detect/visualize. Once you know where the leak is now you can fly over it.

The laser is pointed straight down, so then it’ll give you your quantification/measurement. Can do the same thing with the SeekOps product. They use a sniffer, which is another way of doing it. I think all of these things are important where we’re combining the technologies to provide the best information that people can react to.

The next step is going to be very important just like the continuous monitoring, it’s kind of an aspect of that. And that is to combine it with the autonomous drones, those that are going to be just like Spot but doing the aerial so that people will be able to fly that same route over and over, every hour, multiple times a day, and then they look for that change detection the automatic alarming capability. And I think that is going to be a very powerful medium and you’ll see a number of those products coming out very shortly from different suppliers that we’re providing our camera to.

As I mentioned on the fixed mounted continuous monitoring is the integration of data. Most everybody works with the CMMS systems – being able to provide this data into work order systems, your SAPs, Oracles, JD Edwards, Maximo, because that actually drives the work. That becomes very important so that it becomes integrated into the fabric and the operations of the companies

I think not too far in the distant future you’re going to see more resolution out of the cameras. People have now got a real appetite for the change from going from ¼ VGA to 640 x 512, the VGA resolution. So the natural step is to go to HD. So in infrared that will be 1280 x 1024 or 1920 x 1200. The whole idea is the ability to be able to find even smaller leaks if you need to, or be able to see it from further distances, depending on the optics that you use.

Also see that more will be happening with lenses as well as we start to look at not only different fixed focal length lenses for longer-range applications but maybe you’ll start to see things like continuous optical zoom lenses and things like that so you can vary your distances. The use of video analytics, AI combined with the technology and/or combining that with the fixed PID sensors in plants, so if there’s an alarm that goes off there the cameras can slew-to-cue to where those leaks would be coming from and be able to verify that and then someone can go out with a handheld camera if needed to get much closer.

Of course, what everybody wants in this industry is lower cost OGI cameras. We need everybody to buy a lot of them, and if they do that, we can reduce our costs as well and push all the component manufacturers, and take the whole product price down to make it more affordable. Which also makes it better to integrate with all the other technologies that people want to integrate with it. In our industry the OGI cameras have always expensive. But we’re trying to do everything possible to make it more affordable to the whole industry.

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