AUSEA, a Drone-Borne Sensor to Measure Greenhouse Gas Emissions Efficiently and in Real Time

Several years ago, we pledged to better manage greenhouse gas emissions. We cut such emissions by 23% between 2010 and 2016, and intend to keep building on what we’ve been doing. To measure concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane, the primary gases driving climate change, we have partnered with the French National Research Center (CNRS) to develop the Airborne Ultra-Light Spectrometer for Environmental Application, or AUSEA. This innovative device will allow us to monitor facilities proactively, to minimize greenhouse gases emitted into the air around our various oil and gas sites.

Laurent Cazes


An Ultra-Efficient, Drone-Borne Miniature Sensor

Diode laser spectrometers, a recent technology, are being used more and more, in meteorology for example. The truly innovative AUSEA employs a miniaturized, diode laser-based sensor that is highly sensitive, reliable, accurate and fast. Compact and light — around two kilograms compared to 80 for conventional spectrometers — it will be adapted to be carried by a commercial drone.


The airborne system will be able to assess emissions in real time, at very low thresholds, recording one measurement per second. It will be capable of measuring the two greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4), from time to time or regularly and of estimating their dispersion patterns. Researchers will be able to use the measurements to model gas dispersion in the immediate vicinity of a site.


Miniaturized diode laser-based sensor to detect greenhouse gas emissions

A Model Scientific Partnership with the CNRS and a Cross-Functional Project at Total

To develop this ambitious four-year project launched in early 2017, we are partnering with the CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique) and its GSMA teams, a Reims University group specializing in molecular and atmospheric mass spectrometry.


The program is also cross-functional at Total. It involves a dozen researchers who are experts in mechanical integration, optics, spectral analysis and atmospheric environmental modeling. It’s a successful scientific partnership, which dedicated its first year to developing and field-testing the sensor to see how well it worked in a real-world setting.

Conclusive Trials at a First Test Area in Lacq, France

A first round of testing was conducted last summer in our facilities in Lacq, France, with a sensor installed initially on a tethered balloon and simulated leaks of various concentrations of gas.


The measurements recorded every second and sent back in real time over a 500-meter range tested the device’s early detection ability. Besides looking at its sensitivity, the tests also vetted such practical points as how easy it was to use, its reliability and its robustness — all important criteria for site operators.


The next step is set for 2018 with further tests in Lacq, this time on a drone, to verify the aerodynamic impact of turbulence on the sensor. Then, over the next two years, AUSEA will be tested at various oil and gas sites (refineries and oil and gas production platforms) prior to being deployed operationally in 2020.

AUSEA Ramps Up Total’s Engagement in the Environment

AUSEA will help us monitor our performance much more closely, ramping up from occasional onsite measurement campaigns now to several rounds of monitoring each day. It is vital that we be this transparent about our environmental performance with neighboring communities. And the same is true internally, at our sites, because AUSEA will allow us to be proactive about monitoring our facilities, correcting problems and changing protocols or tools to keep our greenhouse gas emissions to an absolute minimum. With today’s climate concerns, the AUSEA initiative illustrates our renewed, strengthened engagement as a responsible energy major.


It’s a key challenge for Total, and beyond that, the entire industry. AUSEA’s innovative nature could lead to a host of future applications, as other industries adapt it and use it to measure other types of emissions, such as ethane and benzene.