Picarro’s Sensors to Measure Methane in California

Watch out methane producers, California has just hired Picarro. The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based startup announced Wednesday that it has been selected to provide its greenhouse gas-detecting sensor boxes to measure changes in methane emissions across the Golden State.

CEO Michael Woelk told us last November that his grand vision for the company’s $50,000 gas analyzers was to have them deployed as part of vast networks to monitor changes in global carbon emissions. While this project will be limited to California, it still puts Picarro one step closer to that goal and could serve as an important validation for the startup’s technology.

California’s AB32 law requires the state to reduce key greenhouse gases by 25 percent within a decade. As part of that effort, seven Picarro devices will be placed in regions of the state where methane emissions are believed to be highest, such as landfills in Los Angeles and farm fields in the Sacramento valley, to help produce a clearer picture of those gasses generated across California. The California Air Resources Board, the state agency managing the emissions-monitoring program, reportedly spent $400,000 on the devices and software modeling to analyze the data.

Picarro’s gas analyzers, which are about the size of a desktop PC, fire laser beams into the air to determine concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and other gases by measuring the changes in wavelength signals. While the technology has existed in labs for decades to make these measurements, Picarro says it’s the first to have stuffed all this measuring capability into a portable, 58-pound box of sensors that requires little maintenance.

So far Picarro’s customers are research and regulatory groups, like the California Air Resources Board and World Meteorological Organization. But the startup believes its technology will become increasingly valuable as governments look to ways to accurately measure carbon emissions, rather than relying solely on estimating them based on the amount of fuel consumed. Under programs like cap-and-trade, verifiable reductions in emissions will become a valuable asset, and Woelk said he sees a day in the near future when companies operating refineries or managing landfills will seek out technologies like Picarro’s to get an accurate measure of their emissions.