Single photon range imaging for natural gas sensing SPRINGS

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Electrical and Electronic Engineering


Gas sensing is a growing market, with Oil & Gas leak detection alone expected to grow to $3.38B in 2022. One can detect individual gas species by measuring the infrared absorption associated with bond stretching in the gas molecules. The most sensitive methods use laser radar (LIDAR) techniques particularly differential absorption LIDAR (DIAL) where tunable pulsed lasers are used to obtain transmission data on and off-line allowing a calibrated measurement of absorption and thus gas concentration. Existing long range methods have used expensive pulsed solid state lasers and standard avalanche detection methods. Here in SPRINGS we use off-the-shelf communications diode lasers and single photon counting detection to develop a quantum inspired LIDAR capable of detecting the lowest concentration of natural gas leaks required by the industry out to a 200 metres operational distance. This brings a 10-fold sensitivity improvement over our closest competitor on the market and enables a fast scanning and imaging capability. A lightweight and low power, version could by mounted on a drone to delivers up to 30 miles per hour surveying speed for gas leak detection in pipelines and/or landfill sites. To ensure long-term leadership, we also develop a quantum-enhanced prototype, taking us to mid-IR wavelengths, for a further 10-fold performance gain, exploiting quantum interference and parametric frequency conversion. This also open up the possibility for other gas species for Oil & Gas exploration and possibly remote detection of explosives.

The project involves University of Bristol and three SME industrial partners. ID Quantique UK will deliver the single photon LIDAR core technology platform while QLM adds the gas sensing capability and SKY Futures will provide drone integration and validation in industrial settings.

Planned Impact

One of the main goals of SPRINGS is to provide high sensitivity gas surveying capabilities to the Oil & Gas industry, both for environmental protection and for exploration. In fact gas sensing is a rapidly growing market, with Oil & Gas leak detection alone expected to grow to $3.38B in 2022.
With the enhanced sensitivity and efficiency of the SPRINGS LIDAR leak detection will be a major part of this service. The target customers are thus the Oil & Gas infrastructure operators. By utilizing the survey services that are able to identify very small leaks, they can repair the problems at an early stage in the development, preventing major failures and explosion risks. In terms of the impact of the UK photonics industry, there are hundreds of small and medium size companies in the UK are manufacturing optical devices, particularly for fibre optical components in the SWIR telecommunication band using III-V materials. In terms of the wider economics implications, we believe a project like the SPRINGS, using quantum inspired system technology that utilises telecommunication wavelength optical components could act as a future flagship of UK photonic sensing industry.

The work in Bristol University could lead to patentable IP in the domain of parametric sensing methods and of course our Industrial partners are the primary beneficiaries of these developments.
Description We proved that a chip based non-linear interferometer would work. It operates at 1.55um close to the gas sensing wavelength of interest.

We developed FPGA based time tagging instruments suitable for application to timing arrival of single photons for single photon rangefinding applications.
Exploitation Route This work is being continued in an Innovate UK grant SPLICE, starting June 2020.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Energy,Environment

Description The findings have been used in an NPL methane sensing trial and several others since the project ended. Our system is being compared to existing methane detectors with favourable results and commercial development continues apace. This has led to the award of a further Innovate UK grant SPLICE Single Photon Lidar Imaging of Carbon Emissions (£2.4M).
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Energy,Environment
Impact Types Economic

Description QuantIC - The UK Quantum Technology Hub in Quantum Imaging
Amount £21,586,672 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/T00097X/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2019 
End 11/2024
Description Single Photon Lidar Imaging of Carbon Emissions (SPLICE)
Amount £2,442,955 (GBP)
Funding ID 106174 
Organisation Innovate UK 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2020 
End 08/2022
Description The EPSRC Quantum Communications Hub
Amount £23,961,861 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/T001011/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2019 
End 11/2024
Description Glasgow University 
Organisation University of Glasgow
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This is the QUANTIC c.ollaboration a quantum technology hub (Physics: Prof Miles Padgett) Also a partner in our Programme grant through Prof Robert Hadfield.
Collaborator Contribution From QUANTIC we have funding and also many chances for engagement activities through the national quantum tecthology showcase. Hadfield group work on preparing integrated superconducting photon counting detectors
Impact Annual quantum technology showcase 2016-2018 Various publications in the my list
Start Year 2015
Description Heriot Watt University: Programme grant 
Organisation Heriot-Watt University
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Funded the team of Prof Gerald Buller from our Engineering Quantum Photonics
Collaborator Contribution Germanium on silicon photon counting detectors. Quantum Rangefinding demonstrations (in QUANTIC)
Impact Highest efficiency single channel germanium on silicon photon counting detectors working at 125K with performance comparable to InGaAs detectors (publication pending)
Start Year 2014
Description QLM uses Bristol developed single photon sensing technology for gas sensing. In this early stage QLM Technology sets out to tackle the global problem of natural gas (methane) leaks from well-heads and pipeline transportation, which currently cost the industry greater than $6bn annually. The quantum remote sensing solution is capable of remotely detecting and quantifying the lowest leak rate required by the industry, out to a 100-metre operational distance. It is lightweight and low power and when mounted on a drone can deliver an 30 mph full coverage surveying speed. 
Year Established 2017 
Impact Raised £150K of venture capital and some £300K of Innovate UK funding to develop prototype systems
Description BQIT (Bristol Quantum Information Technologies) Workshop 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact This is the annual quantum information workshop organised by Bristol, chared again this year by Prof John Rarity
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Quantum Technology showcase November 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Showcase of quantum technologies.
We have exhibited:
Hand held quantum key distributions
Chip-scalequantum key distribution
Quantum light sources for sub-shot noise measurement
Quantum pair photn sources for rangefinging
Remote gas sensing using single photon detection
Quantum network technologies
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016,2017,2018,2019