Embracing quantum technologies for climate change

Engineers on a solar power plant

How can quantum imaging technology support the drive to achieve a net zero economy?

To tackle climate change, it is necessary for both industry and government organisations to have accurate, widespread access to environmental monitoring.

Earlier this month, COP26 launched two weeks of global negotiations to help determine whether humanity can drive forward the urgent action needed to avoid catastrophic climate change.

The UK government dedicated an extra £500 million towards innovation projects to develop the green technologies of the future. This fund will support the most pioneering ideas and technologies to help to decarbonise our:

  • homes
  • industries
  • land
  • power.

Imaging solutions

To tackle climate change, it is necessary for both industry and government organisations to have accurate, widespread access to monitoring solutions that can show the emissions, condition and sustainability of our society.

At QuantIC we have developed a range of imaging solutions that address major areas of climate impact. These include:

  • seeing gas emissions such as methane and hydrogen
  • structural health monitoring within challenging environments
  • enabling better product longevity for renewable energy sources.

Reducing greenhouse gas

Reducing methane leaks in the atmosphere is one of the fastest ways to prevent climate change. With a warming effect of nearly 80 times that of carbon dioxide, methane, commonly referred to as natural gas, is the second greatest greenhouse gas contributor to climate change.

Methane is vital to several processes across society, including the production of hydrogen, a key ingredient in achieving net zero. To continue using methane safely, monitoring for leaks is essential. Methane gas, invisible to the human eye, is detectable using specially designed infrared cameras, where sensors are extremely expensive and have a limited supply.

QuantIC research teams at the Universities of Bristol and Glasgow, in partnership with industry, have developed several detectors based on quantum science to extend our accessibility and sensitivity to non-visible wavelengths of infrared and ultraviolet. By providing society with the tools to measure our greenhouse gas emissions, we can identify and immediately resolve the greatest contributors to climate change, today.

Improving structural health monitoring

Effective structural imaging and monitoring will play an essential role in preventing long-term environmental damage. The development of ultra-sensitive and ultra-fine quantum detectors provide a unique opportunity to produce images where lighting is extremely limited or where structures are hard to reach.

QuantIC researchers at Heriot Watt University have utilised these ultra-sensitive photon-timing detectors to image through dark, murky water, giving real-time 3D video capabilities for monitoring coastal defences and deep-water projects, such as offshore wind turbines.

By monitoring these underwater structures, QuantIC can maximise their efficiency. This heightened performance and lower running cost directly translates into realising the ambition for tidal and offshore wind-based renewable energy. Furthermore, quantum-based imaging can support the correct maintenance of these programmes, so they are sustainable for generations to come.

Advanced borescopes, the width of a single human hair, can be used to peer through tiny cracks to inspect degrading structures. They can also be used to check car and plane engines are running cleanly, helping to alleviate long term environmental damage.

QuantIC is actively exploring applications for inspecting inside nuclear power stations, including the next generation of small modular reactors and experimental fusion systems.

Enhancing renewable energy sources

Improving the efficiency and reliability of wind turbines and solar panels is another application for quantum enhanced imaging.

Modern wind turbines have internal motors to align their direction and blades to the upcoming wind, allowing them to generate the most renewable energy possible, and reduce unstable, damaging force. However, weather conditions are difficult to predict perfectly, and wind may quickly change course. A quantum enhanced light detection and ranging (LIDR) mounted to a turbine is sensitive to changes in air speed, allowing real-time motor adjustments. This gives us the opportunity to deliver more renewable energy and prolong the lifespan of turbines across the globe.

If you have some environmental monitoring challenges that you think QuantIC’s technology could solve, contact our Business Development Manager.

Email: christopher.payne-dwyer@glasgow.ac.uk

Top image:  Credit: RossHelen, Getty Images

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