A compact QCL spectrometer for mobile, high-precision methane sensing aboard drones

Tuzson, Béla; Graf, Manuel; Ravelid, Jonas; Scheidegger, Philipp; Kupferschmid, André; Looser, Herbert; Morales, Randulph Paulo; Emmenegger, Lukas

A compact and lightweight mid-infrared laser absorption spectrometer has been developed as a mobile sensing platform for high-precision atmospheric methane measurements aboard small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The instrument leverages two recent innovations: a novel segmented circular multipass cell (SC-MPC) design and a power-efficient, low-noise, intermittent continuous-wave (icw) laser driving approach. A system-on-chip hardware control and data acquisition system enables energy-efficient and fully autonomous operation. The integrated spectrometer weighs inline-formula2.1 kg (including battery) and consumes inline-formula18 W of electrical power, making it ideally suited for airborne monitoring applications. Under stable laboratory conditions, the device achieves a precision (inline-formula1σ) of inline-formula1.1 ppb within inline-formula1 s and inline-formula0.1 ppb inline-formulaCH4 at inline-formula100 s averaging time. Detailed investigations were performed to identify and quantify the effects of various environmental factors, such as sudden changes in pressure, temperature, and mechanical vibrations, which commonly influence UAV-mounted sensors. The instrument was also deployed in two feasibility field studies: an artificial methane release experiment and a study on vertical profiles in the planetary boundary layer. In both cases, the spectrometer demonstrated its airborne capability of capturing subtle and/or sudden changes in atmospheric inline-formulaCH4 mole fractions and providing real-time data at inline-formula1 s time resolution.

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Tuzson, Béla / Graf, Manuel / Ravelid, Jonas / et al: A compact QCL spectrometer for mobile, high-precision methane sensing aboard drones. 2020. Copernicus Publications.

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