Market, IP and opportunities exploration for low-cost high performance in situ methane sensor

Lead Research Organisation: National Oceanography Centre
Department Name: Science and Technology


The National Oceanography Centre, Southampton has developed a compact sensor that can measure extremely low concentrations of methane. For oceanographic applications this has been proven to detect less than 1 nano mole of methane per litre of seawater. That is equivalent to approximately 10 parts of methane in a trillion parts of water. The proposed activity will investigate if this miniature, low-cost, high performance in situ (i.e. can be used in the environment rather than only in the lab) methane sensor technology has commercial potential. The results of the study will inform further development of the technology, and actions taken to progress commercialisation. The aim is to maximise the contribution made to the competitiveness of UK industry. Methane sensing has potential applications in the oil and gas industry and in other environmental and industrial applications. We are therefore, confident that this study will identify commercial potential. The study will complete a market assessment, will review patents and opportunities for protection of the idea; and will evaluate possible partners and initiate contacts with them. The sensor technology uses an indicator molecule that traps methane in a cage like structure and is itself embedded in a clear plastic. The number of trapped methane molecules is directly related to the concentration of methane in the environment. The presence of the methane molecule within the cage changes the speed at which light travels in the plastic loaded with these molecules. This change is detected to very high precision using a technique called Surface Plasmon Resonance. The SPR phenomena produces a dark band in light reflected through a prism. The angular position of this band is a measure of the speed of light in the material above the prism. We measure the angle of the dark band to measure the speed of light in our indicator material, and therefore measure the number of trapped methane molecules. Using a miniature prism (about 5cm in its biggest dimension) and a very thin layer of indicator material (approximately 0.2mm) we have created a very small high performance sensor.


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Description That methane sensors alone were insufficient for target markets such as hydrocarbon reserve characterisation. This motivates further hydrocarbon sensor development
Exploitation Route This market assessment has directed further sensor R&D
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Chemicals,Electronics,Energy,Environment

Description Innovative Monitoring Approaches Full Stage
Amount £349,064 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/R014922/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2018 
End 12/2020