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Silicon Valley startup pinpoints methane emissions using satellites

Methane is responsible for 25% of global warming and by pinpointing the exact source of emission and frequently monitoring it, we can take effective action, and slow down climate change, says Yotam Ariel, CEO & Founder of Bluefield, in an exclusive interview with Geospatial World. 

methane emissions
Yotam Ariel, CEO, Bluefield

What inspired you to setup Bluefield?

I was reading how college students were launching satellites, and realized satellite launching has come a long way. If it has become so inexpensive and easy to launch satellites, there must be new possibilities. So I took a course with a NASA advisor and as we were going about space entrepreneurship and various new business opportunities, he showed a sensor that could fit in the palm of your hand. The sensor was meant for nanosatellites and could detect greenhouse gases. He said that he is certain that one day somebody would build a business out of it. That day I decided that it’s going to be me!

How has your experience been so far and what is Bluefield’s vision?

Any technology startup requires a lot of effort and grit to overcome challenges. We have been fortunate to have a great team and excellent investors. Our vision is to start deploying methane tracking microsatellites and then expand the constellation and detect more gases, allowing us to become the ‘breathing monitor’ of our planet.

Tell us about your microsatellites and Bluefield’s program to launch them?

We recently completed a series of successful aerial field tests which were observed by a third-party, and the results were outstanding. . We are planning to deploy one microsatellite by end of next year or early 2021 and then eight microsatellites by end of 2023.

Is tracking methane different from tracking other gas emissions?

From space, tracking methane is the most technically feasible and financially attractive. After that, SO2, NO2, and CO2 are harder to track but still feasible.

Apart from tracking methane emissions, any other areas Bluefield is focusing on?

We will, in the future, expand to tracking other greenhouse gases like SO2, NO2 and CO2. We’ll also expand from our initial focus on oil and gas emitting sources to also monitor landfills, wastewater, livestock, heavy industries, etc.

How would Bluefield’s microsatellites be different from existing gas tracking satellites?

The optical technique we’re using, combined with proprietary machine vision algorithms, enable unprecedented precision, frequency, and affordability to pinpoint the millions of emitting sources on our planet, and continuously monitor them.

methane emissions
Bluefield’s microsatellite


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Is there a Bluefield strategy for combating global warming for a cleaner, healthier environment and a better tomorrow?

We will be mapping every critical emitter on the planet, every day. That would make for a better tomorrow because methane is responsible for 25% of global warming and by identifying where exactly it’s being emitted and then monitoring it, emitters can know about it. They can take action and see how effective it is. By bringing this powerful data we will play a significant role in slowing down climate change.

Coming to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, as sustainability is becoming a buzzword, are there any upcoming endeavors from your side?

Tracking greenhouse gases is within the Sustainable Development Goals i.e Climate Action (Goal #13).

These days, new technologies like machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI) and deep learning have a huge impact on multiple fields and are influencing many sectors. Do you think future technologies like AI and machine learning can play a big role in tracking emissions and pinpointing the exact source of emissions?

We use machine learning and AI extensively. As soon as we download the data that our microsatellite sensor captures, we process it using advanced AI techniques. That’s how we’re able to extract the tiny bits of optical information of methane and tell our clients with high certainty where, when, and how big a methane leak is.

Could you briefly tell us how you use machine-learning algorithms in the analysis of your data?

The image that we get from our sensor that’s on the microsatellite looks like a photo that you took of your doormat. To the human eye, it doesn’t make any sense. But there is actually optical information that shows methane in it. So, what we do is we apply different techniques to remove the noise and extract the bits of information on methane.

The ongoing New Space Revolution has seen an interplay of a host of new technologies and companies. What’s your view on this new disruptive trend within the space sector?

It’s enabling new businesses. It’s becoming easier for companies like us to operate, and the cost of building satellites is decreasing. They are becoming more and more reliable and the components are becoming smaller. Satellite launching is also becoming more affordable and accessible. There are about six ways to launch into space today and by next year there will be 12, so it’s becoming more frequent. There is also increasing capabilities and service providers of the needed communication network, as well as other related services and talent i.e. people with experience in satellite operation and data processing. The talent pool is getting bigger. New space has opened up enormous and unprecedented opportunities. Just like what we are doing, we couldn’t have done it five or 10 years ago.

Do you think that governments and other organizations should work in tandem to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

Absolutely. We have a pilot project with the California Energy Commission, and we’ve been approached by other interested government agencies.

Do you plan to enter into partnerships or collaboration with other government agencies or private companies, similar to the California Energy Commission pilot project?

Yes. We have partnered with private companies. Our clients already include several of the world’s largest oil and gas companies. We’ve also received requests from the Asian market, and recently had meetings with dominant oil and gas companies in Asia.

Could you tell us a bit about the data that you use and how valuable is the data for the organization?

Today if you want to measure a site that is emitting methane it costs several hundreds of dollars for one measurement, for one site, and globally there are more than 3 million sites. So if you wanted to measure all the sites in the world just once that will be a whopping $1.5 billion.

Data precision is crucial. How do you ensure that data insights are actionable and precise?

We implement robust calibration procedures such as comparing our microsatellite data with known emitting sources and selected ground sensors every few orbits. On top of that, when we notify the emitters about a leak or emission, they normally then go and further inspect it. If they go and in certain cases find different situation than what our data says, they provide us feedback, which we then use to further teach our algorithms and continuously improve our performance.

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