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FLIR GF320 thermal camera offers reliable gas leak detection in biogas facilities

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article image FLIR GF320 infrared camera

Thermal imaging cameras from FLIR Systems are helping biogas facilities in Germany detect methane leaks that can cause significant harm to the environment and workers.

Extensive field testing in recent years has revealed that a majority of biogas facilities in Germany experience methane leaks. However, thanks to affordable gas detection technology from FLIR GF320 thermal imagers, facilities are becoming more aware of the effectiveness of thermal imaging in finding hidden gas leaks before they can cause significant harm.

Preventing biogas leaks

Several European countries are seeking to reduce their dependency on fossil fuels and mitigate the effects of climate change by expanding the use of renewable energy sources including biogas (methane) production. For instance, bioenergy represents approximately five percent of Germany’s current energy production, with the government looking to double it by 2020.

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, fix, and report leaks of volatile gasses.

German company IBS GmbH specialises in gas leak detection and analysis at major biogas facilities. The company recently invested in the FLIR GF320 thermal imager to provide its clients with the highest quality gas detection capability.

Having learned about the use of thermography in the detection of organic gas leakage at a trade fair, IBS GmbH subsequently had a FLIR representative demonstrate the technology to one of their customers. Ibeling van Lessen, one of IBS GmbH’s managing directors has been using the FLIR GF320 for the past two years, and has examined more than 150 biogas plants to date. Part of FLIR’s family of non contact gas detection cameras, the GF320 can detect dozens of volatile organic compounds in multiple types of facilities, including oil refineries, petrochemical plants, and gas-fired power stations.

According to van Lessen, even the smallest gas leaks can cause serious financial damage over time.

Conventional gas detection measures are often impractical

Conventional gas detection technologies are often ineffective in detecting gas leaks with the sheer size of biogas facilities and their huge equipment presenting major challenges. Conventional gas detection involves using leakage spray and gas sensors, known as ‘sniffers’, which are time consuming and difficult to use in hard-to-access places.

Seeking a non-contact method for detecting small leaks from a distance, van Lessen found that the FLIR GF320 fit the bill. It was not only compact and mobile but also could identify small gas leaks from several metres away and big leaks from hundreds of metres away without requiring equipment to be shut down. The camera is so compact that it can be easily carried, even when using ladders, says van Lessen.

Escaping gasses appear like smoke on the camera’s LCD viewfinder 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

FLIR’s integrated and patented image analysis software ensures the clarity of the GF320’s thermal video. However, the user needs some interpretive skill to analyse 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.

FLIR Tools also comes in quite handy when producing inspection reports with the software allowing for sophisticated documentation. The leaks can be marked directly on 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 confirm the leak is fixed.

GF320 allows for maximum mobility

Given that the FLIR GF320 had no real competition in terms of compact size and portability, acquiring the camera wasn’t a difficult decision for IBS GmbH. Additionally, the price and versatility of the camera were also key considerations. Less expensive than competing thermal cameras and also easy to use, the GF320 detects not only methane, but a total of 20 gasses, including butane, propane, and benzene. The GF320 is a versatile tool at each step of the biofuel production process, from the fermentation of agricultural by-product to the generation of power at combined heat and power (CHP) plants. The GF320 can also detect petrol or diesel fumes, as well as exhaust leaks on the turbocharger. The rugged design of the thermal imaging camera allows its use in conjunction with an explosion meter in explosive environments. Also, the lightweight design offers ergonomic operation in any position.

Conclusion: Added value for users and customers

The key success factors for bioenergy facilities continue to be safety, efficiency and profitability. A gas detection procedure should be able to give the inspectors a complete picture of the condition of the plant. The FLIR GF320 infrared camera is an extremely important tool for tracking down potential gas leaks, providing significant added value for gas detection companies such as IBS GmbH and their customers in ensuring optimised operation and safety.

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