Articles | Volume 11, issue 6
Research article
20 Jun 2018
Research article |  | 20 Jun 2018

Assessing a low-cost methane sensor quantification system for use in complex rural and urban environments

Ashley Collier-Oxandale, Joanna Gordon Casey, Ricardo Piedrahita, John Ortega, Hannah Halliday, Jill Johnston, and Michael P. Hannigan

Abstract. Low-cost sensors have the potential to facilitate the exploration of air quality issues on new temporal and spatial scales. Here we evaluate a low-cost sensor quantification system for methane through its use in two different deployments. The first was a 1-month deployment along the Colorado Front Range and included sites near active oil and gas operations in the Denver-Julesburg basin. The second deployment was in an urban Los Angeles neighborhood, subject to complex mixtures of air pollution sources including oil operations. Given its role as a potent greenhouse gas, new low-cost methods for detecting and monitoring methane may aid in protecting human and environmental health. In this paper, we assess a number of linear calibration models used to convert raw sensor signals into ppm concentration values. We also examine different choices that can be made during calibration and data processing and explore cross sensitivities that impact this sensor type. The results illustrate the accuracy of the Figaro TGS 2600 sensor when methane is quantified from raw signals using the techniques described. The results also demonstrate the value of these tools for examining air quality trends and events on small spatial and temporal scales as well as their ability to characterize an area – highlighting their potential to provide preliminary data that can inform more targeted measurements or supplement existing monitoring networks.

Short summary
Low-cost air quality sensors and air quality sensor systems have the potential to open up new ways of measuring pollutants. In this paper, we explored ways to use low-cost sensors (approximately USD 10 per sensor) to estimate methane – a pollutant important for its contributions to climate change. We found that while these sensors will likely never replace traditional air quality monitoring methods, they can provide useful supplementary information on local pollution sources and regional trends.