Engineer Ibeling van Lessen looking for gas leaks, which is possible from a safe distance and unusual angles using the FLIR GF320.

Extensive fi eld testing in recent years has revealed that a

majority of biogas facilities in Germany experience methane leaks that pose signifi cant threats to the environment, employee safety, and profi ts. However, with affordable gas

fi nding technology like the FLIR GF320 thermal imager, there is a growing awareness of the effectiveness of thermal imaging for inspecting facilities and fi nding hidden gas leaks before they cause signifi cant harm.

Preventing Biogas Leaks

Expanding the use of renewable energy sources has become a major policy issue for Europe countries looking to reduce their dependency on fossil fuels and mitigate the effects of climate change.

The production of biogas (methane), in particular, is expected to play a larger role in the next decade. In Germany, for example, bioenergy represents approximately fi ve percent of the country’s current energy production, and the government hopes to double that percentage by 2020, according to offi cial reports.

However, methane is a greenhouse gas that can harm the environment if not contained properly during the production process. Biogas producers face strict regulations regarding how they trace, document, fi x, and report leaks of volatile gases.

IBS GmbH, headquartered in Bremen, Germany, specializes in gas leak detection and analysis at major biogas facilities. The company recently purchased the FLIR GF320 thermal imager to provide its clients with the highest quality gas detection. IBS GmbH learned about using thermography to detect leakage of organic gases at a trade fair.

“We then had a FLIR representative who is also an experienced consultant and [GF320] user demonstrate the technology for one of our customers,” said Ibeling van Lessen, one of IBS GmbH’s managing directors.

The engineer has been using the FLIR GF320 for the past two years, and has examined more than 150 biogas plants to date. The GF320 is part of FLIR’s family of non-contact Gas Detection cameras, which can detect dozens of volatile organic compounds in multiple types of facilities, including oil refi neries, petrochemical plants, and gas-fi red power stations.

“If gone undetected, even the smallest gas leaks can cause serious fi nancial damage over time,” van Lessen said.

Conventional Gas Detection Measures are Often Impractical

The sheer size of Biogas facilities can make detecting gas leaks a real challenge. They include huge pieces of equipment, with hundreds of components that need testing. Conventional gas detection involves using leakage spray and gas sensors, known as “sniffers,” but these methods are time-consuming, especially in hard-to-reach

places. For

inner gas membrane, eyelets for submersible mixers, and holes in the tank walls—all of which are diffi cult to access.

As a result, van Lessen was looking for a non-contact method for detecting small leaks from a distance. The FLIR GF320 fi t the bill. It was compact and mobile, and can identify small gas leaks from several meters away, and big leaks from hundreds of meters away without requiring equipment be shutdown.

“The camera is so compact that it can be easily carried, even when using ladders,” said van Lessen.

Escaping gases appear like smoke on the camera’s LCD viewfi nder in real time and can be recorded in the camera for easy archiving. Once a leak is detected from a safe distance, users can move closer and quantify the gas concentration using a secondary method.

Interpreting Gas Leak Footage Requires Skill

The clarity of the GF320’s thermal video is due to FLIR’s integrated and patented image analysis software. However, it does take some interpretive skill to analyze black and white JPEG images of escaping gas, which is why van Lessen found the user training by the specialist company ITEMA GmbH particularly helpful. He received precise instructions from qualifi ed personnel on how to handle and operate the camera.

“Some experience in image interpretation is necessary to perform reliable leakage localization and assessment,” said van Lessen.

FLIR Tools software also comes in quite handy when producing inspection reports. The software allows for sophisticated documentation and is easy to learn in a short period of time. Found leaks can be marked directly in the image and also recorded as a video sequence inside the program. Based on detailed reports, damaged areas can be subsequently repaired by the customer, and then tested again to confi rm the leak is fi xed.

example, a fermenter roof contains an

Gas leak on the terminal strip of the air-supported roof of a fermenter in the visible light spectrum - and in an infrared image made by the FLIR GF320.

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