How to Save Earth with Methane Emissions Tracking Satellites

Learn how a new space startup helps energy companies slay harmful emissions.

Managing our global emissions has become a priority, yet monitoring emissions on a global scale is not an easy task. In recent years, natural gas has surpassed coal as the primary energy source. At the same time, the natural gas industry is also the leading source of methane leaks. And, methane is an environmental enemy 100x more damaging than carbon dioxide (CO2). Today, a simple way to detect methane on such a large, global scale isn’t available.

Admitting there’s a problem is just the first step

Yotam Ariel
CEO and Co-founder, Bluefield Technologies

Energy companies and environmental organizations are desperately seeking ways to map and track methane emissions. Yotam Ariel, CEO and Co-founder of Bluefield, a company aiming to address this challenge, says mapping and tracking every critical emitting source on our planet are crucial for reducing emissions. Knowing what is emitting, when, and how much, can have a massive impact towards addressing the biggest environmental challenge of our generation. Right now, it is guesswork. These companies and organizations don’t know where the emissions are.

Green energy and the birth of a new space company

“My previous company was a green energy company working in Africa and other regions where climate change was very clearly impacting their environments,” explains Ariel. “As a result of this work, I got involved in the oil and gas industry to try to help them reduce emissions. The companies were making changes to try to decrease emissions, but they didn’t have a way to determine if the changes they were making were having a positive impact.”

Monitoring globally

“What’s more, they also used distributed monitoring and tracking technologies and were not able to see where large methane leaks in their systems may be occurring. They were flying blind and had no way to demonstrate they were doing the right things,” continues Ariel.

That’s where things started to gel for Ariel. He took time to share the lessons he has learned throughout his entrepreneurial career, especially in the past several years as he has worked to develop and grow Bluefield.

Bluefield microsatellites detect methane emissions
Bluefield plans to use microsatellites to provide a global view of methane emissions.

Now, Bluefield plans to launch microsatellites (small backpack-size satellites) into orbit to help energy companies and environmental organizations address and decrease methane emissions on a global level.

Lesson 1 – The more rejections you can get per day the better

Starting and developing a business is never a straight-forward endeavor. It’s extremely rare for an entrepreneur not to have stories of rejection and challenges, especially in the startup phase of their companies.

“If you want to do something meaningful in life, the more rejections you can get per day the better. You want to ask a lot of people to join and work with you. This includes suppliers, investors, partners and employees,” shares Ariel. “No one is going to pick up the phone and say, ‘I see what you see. Can I join your cause?’ There aren’t any shortcuts. I liken it to going into a diamond mine – you don’t complain about the dirt,” quips Ariel.

Getting the rejections out of the way, makes room for acceptances.

“I received a lot of rejection early on. When you have yet to create revenue, most people fall into the wait- and-see category. It is a unique person that thrives in environments of uncertainty where things still need to be defined. At the same time, some people live for the opportunity to be on the ground floor of something new and exciting. Those that accept may be rare, and that ends up being very beneficial to long-term success,” shares Ariel.

Bluefield methane emissions tracking infographic

Lesson 2 – Ask for something small and specific

This is good advice in nearly any situation where you need the assistance of others. Oftentimes people will offer to help, but then they don’t actually do anything. This is because they don’t know exactly what kind of help is needed.

Small, specific help

“I’ve found it much more productive to ask for help in small and specific ways. People, especially people in your network that have worked with you before and respect you, want to help. Everyone has busy lives though,” says Ariel. “When I have something I could use help on in the business, I think of the first small step that could help me. It could be an introduction to a new contact or advice on a specific point. Making my requests for help small and specific means people are more willing and able to support the request,” describes Ariel.

Bluefield user interface
Bluefield user interface shows where and how much methane is being emitted.

Lesson 3 – Build relationships for the long term

Most businesses seek to build long-term relationships with their clients and investors. They say it is easier to keep a customer you already have than to get a new one. But, according to Ariel, there’s much more to it than ongoing revenue.

Clients, investors and partners

“We started getting requests from very large companies. These companies don’t give you a second chance. They give you a chance to share what you can deliver. Your natural reaction is to want to wow them, but don’t over sell what you can do. Make sure you can deliver and they understand the technology it takes to deploy the solution,” says Ariel. “I focus on sharing exactly what we can do and what we cannot do right now.”

Real world trials

“We also are performing aerial pilots so our clients can see how the technology works in the real world. This makes a significant impact. We want our clients, investors and partners to be with us regardless of what happens in the early days. Being clear and upfront about realistic timelines and early capabilities will set expectations that grow trust and long-term relationships,” explains Ariel.

Bluefield Canada balloon test July 23 2019
Bluefield Canada balloon test July 23, 2019.

Lesson 4 – Leverage eliminated barriers

Taking advantage of accessibility of technology is important when getting started. It streamlines the route to market, lowers costs and makes real-world testing possible without huge expenditures. There have been many changes regarding access to space. It’s only been a handful of years since hitching a ride on a rocket became a reality. Satellites have gone from the size of buses to the size of something you can balance on the tip of your finger. Extraordinary progress has been made, opening up a new realm of space startups.  

Methane emissions detection interface

Space isn’t easy, but it has gotten easier

“There are a lot of barriers that would have stood in the way of starting Bluefield just a few years ago. Timing isn’t everything, but it is important,” explains Ariel. “To monitor methane emissions, we need reliable satellite producers. We need a way to get the satellites into space and small cameras that can withstand the rigors of space. Plus, we need ground stations to beam the data we collect to Earth, as well as advanced image processing tools and capacity. This wouldn’t have been possible if we had started our work a few years earlier. Now it is possible,” shares Ariel.

Lesson 5 – What’s old can be new again

It’s something that comes up again and again with technology startups. When you talk about how they were formed, founders will often point back to technology that may have initially been explored decades earlier. It isn’t unusual to see new technology that was inspired by previous research, studies and experiments.

Unprecedented accuracy, cheaper and faster

“We use backpack-sized satellites with proprietary optical sensors to capture methane emissions data on each of the millions of sites around the world. The scale, speed and low cost at which we collect this precise data is unprecedented. Our clients simply subscribe to access alerts and analytics on their sites of interest. Now they can see how improvements they are making are having a positive impact on lowering their emissions around the world,” explains Ariel.

Bluefield's COOL methane sensor
Bluefield’s COOL methane sensor

NASA pioneered it, we miniaturized it

“You can’t fix what you can’t see, so we use Mother Nature to see, monitor and report the methane emissions. There’s a glass capsule filled with methane gas that we put in front of our camera. When light passes through the methane capsule, the resulting imagery filters out the places where methane is emitted. Then we use an empty capsule in our sensor that shows us the intensity of the methane emissions. When combined, we get a full picture of where the most urgent sites to address are located,” describes Ariel. “NASA pioneered this approach in the 1970s. We have miniaturized it and combined it with a powerful machine vision algorithm we’ve developed,” says Ariel.

The future

Bluefield has plans to launch its first satellites in 2021. They have already tested their technology utilizing helicopters and high-altitude balloons, and the tests have proven the viability of the solution. Yotam anticipates the data his company will provide will enable more collaboration and less finger-pointing. The dataset will help prioritize leaks and provide quantifiable data. Initially, Bluefield will use its technology to track methane emissions around the globe from anything that uses natural gas, including factories, refineries, waste-water treatment plants, refuse and more.

April 2019 Bluefield pilot identifies a methane leak.
April 2019 Bluefield pilot identifies a methane leak.

Tracking other harmful emissions

Later, the company will have the ability to track other greenhouse gases impacting our environment including carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O) and sulfur dioxide (SO2). 

Let’s review the lessons Yotam shared with us:

  1. The more rejections you can get per day the better
  2. Ask for something small and specific
  3. Build relationships for the long term
  4. Leverage eliminated barriers
  5. What’s old can be new again

To learn more about Bluefield and its methane emissions tracking solution, visit https://bluefield.co.

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