Bozeman photonics company lands $12 million natural gas surveying contract
Originally featured in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle
By Juliana Sukut, Staff Writer
August 27, 2021 - A Bozeman high-tech laser company has scored a multimillion-dollar contract to scan and map methane emissions for one of the nation’s largest gas utility companies.
Bridger Photonics signed a $12 million contract with Southern California Gas Company, or SoCalGas, to survey gas leaks with its LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technology. The contract is the largest in the Bozeman laser company’s history.
In a press release, SoCalGas said it aimed to be clean and innovative. It serves 21 million people with nearly 5.9 million meters of natural gas pipelines.
Instead of surveying the service area on foot, Bridger Photonics will scan about 80% of the gas company’s service area — which extends from the northern San Joaquin Valley down to the California-Mexico border — using helicopters equipped with its LiDAR sensors.
The LiDAR sensors can catch more than 90% of overall methane emissions on average.
The laser company then generates a digital map after each day’s scan that shows GPS coordinates of detected leaks and emissions and returns the data to SoCalGas, which in turn can send crews to fix emission sources.
Having a map of leaks and the ability to send crews to specific locations is a huge time and money saver for natural gas producers and distributors said Bridger Photonics CEO, president, and co-founder Peter Roos.
“When we hand (data) to them, they know exactly where to go to fix it,” Roos said. “I can’t tell you how important that has been.”
The process is quicker and more precise than traditional surveying, which is typically done on foot, said Mike Thorpe, Bridger Photonics’ Chief Technology Officer.
“We can go out in a day and do tens of square miles,” Thorpe said. “It’s pretty cool.”
With identifying natural gas leaks quicker and more precisely, Thorpe said Bridger Photonics’ technology will ultimately be better for limiting harm to the environment.
The technology is still relatively new, Thorpe said. The company began to invest in the LiDAR scanning in 2015.
Since 2015, the company has twice been funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy’s SCALEUP program to fully develop and commercialize LiDAR.
It was commercially released at the start of 2019.
In April, ExxonMobil filed an application with the EPA to use Bridger Photonics’ LiDAR technology in lieu of foot patrols and to satisfy the existing regulation.
The Alternate Means of Emission Limitation application is under review with the EPA, which is under the process of rewriting the rules around emission limitation, a spokesperson with Bridger Photonics said.
Founded in Bozeman in 2006, the company has seen rapid growth in the past several years, Roos said. Growth has stayed steady, despite some challenges presented by the pandemic. The company hopes to keep expanding its LiDAR services, Roos said.
The SoCalGas contract is the first step for the growing company.
“This is going to be a launchpad,” Roos said.
Read the full piece in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.