There is now a process in development to create a precise measuring device to discover radioactive methane.
The new method is an optical one based on spectroscopy. Previously, radioactive methane has been measured with accelerator mass spectrometry, involving expensive and huge machines. Optical measuring could be a cheaper and more agile method, said Juho Karhu in his PhD thesis work at the University Helsinki.
The method created is based on the absorption of materials, like how the material retains light at different wavelengths. By measuring how much the material absorbs, it is possible to deduce how much it contains different components.
In his research, Karhu analyzed which wavelength the light source used should have in order to measure radioactive methane. This is a first step toward a functioning measurement device.
Optical methods have been used before to measure radioactive carbon dioxide. So far, no one has reached the same precision with optical methods as with accelerator mass spectrometry. Karhu, however, is the first scientist to apply optical techniques to the measurement of radioactive methane.
There are applications for the technology within the energy industry.
The optical method for measuring radioactive methane could be applied in fields such as energy production, Karhu said.
The method could be used for finding out the composition of fuel, he said. The authorities could analyze how much of a biofuel consists of biogas and how much is natural gas, Karhu said.
The method could also be applicable in nuclear power plants. It could end up used to measure the levels of radioactive methane on-site. Samples would no longer have to be sent to a laboratory.
Radioactive methane occurs naturally all around us. It is in the atmosphere and all living beings. However, the levels are very low. A very small part of all natural methane is radioactive.
In small doses, radioactive methane is harmless to humans and the environment.