Fugitive emissions are net zero’s ‘dark secret’

fugitive emissions

Fugitive emissions are a major unseen contributor to climate change and ‘waste’ over $30bn worth of usable products every year.

Faulty valves are an often hidden contributor to GHG emissions and account for 60 per cent of fugitive emissions, classified as leaks and irregular release of process gases or vapours from pressurised systems, big process, vessels, tanks, oil and gas systems and oil wells.

“Of all fugitive emissions methane is the second largest greenhouse gas and is probably the biggest contributor to global warming because it is 28 times more lethal than CO2 and it mostly comes from industrial processes,” Neil Poxon, CEO at Oxford Flow, said. “One of the IPCC’s four key targets is to reduce methane emission by 77 per cent because 3.6 trillion cubic feet of methane is released every year into the atmosphere with a product value of $30 billion and the majority of these emissions come from valves.”

Across industry real time monitoring of all kinds of emissions is available which is why the size of the problem is known, but to date the ability to fix it has been missing, Poxon explained. “The technology has not been available to solve the problem so it has traditionally been a matter of band aids and plaster fixing, bolting potential solutions onto existing leaky equipment. Not enough is being done across high-emitting industries like manufacturing, gas networks or fossil fuel production to remove, replace and innovate.”

Of all of the leakage from valves 80 per cent comes from the stem seal interface and the mechanical drive train, the actuator that opens and closes the valve, and from a rubber diaphragm which regulates the flow. In making its new valves Oxford Flow has designed out the stem seal and mechanical drive train and removed all use of rubber diaphragms within the valve itself.

The planned widespread use of hydrogen as part of the low carbon energy transition could increase the prevalence of fugitive emissions due to hydrogen’s negative effect on seals. Oxford Flow valves are the first to be fully hydrogen compatible, both innovations recognised by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers who awarded the company first prize for innovation at last year’s Oil and Gas Technology Conference in Houston.

“There are three main areas of concern around fugitive emissions, the leakage resulting environmental issues, then there’s the financial cost and when you introduce hydrogen there is a major concern around safety,” Poxon concluded. “Hydrogen is dangerous so it is vital to eliminate the potential for leaks and fugitive emissions. In doing so you will reduce health and safety risks, it will save you money, it helps with transport and distribution and it helps to minimise environmental impact.”

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