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28 June 2017

What is an infrared camera – and how can it help me?

Imagine seeing someone looking down the lens of what appears to be a 1980s video camera pointed toward your facility. You may not know whether to laugh or call the cops! Believe it or not, this may really happen to you and I was once one of the regulators who did this. Prior to my current job as an air quality specialist, I led the infrared camera initiative for the Kentucky Division for Air Quality. Infrared cameras are a great tool, so I thought others might be interested in just what they can do and what the information may be used for.

So, what is an infrared camera and who uses it?

photo courtesy Infrared Training Center

Infrared cameras make invisible gases visible. Visibility is possible, in part, because of the way compounds absorb infrared energy at varied wavelengths. Several different types of infrared cameras are available, and they may be used for a variety of reasons. Gas companies, for example, use infrared cameras to ensure safety by routinely looking for leaks. Air agencies use optical gas imaging cameras for detecting volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Infrared cameras are also a good tool for determining storage tank levels.

Using IR cameras for air enforcement

photo courtesy Infrared Training Center

Most air enforcement agencies nowadays use a mid-wave optical gas imaging camera. The standard mid-wave camera lens can detect gases that absorb energy in the 3.2 to 3.4 micrometer wavelength of the infrared spectrum. The mid-wave optical gas imaging camera can detect a large number of gases. The most significant ones include methane, propane, benzene, butane, ethanol, ethylene, methanol, toluene, xylene, but there are many others.

A few agencies also use long-wave optical gas imaging cameras that can detect gases that absorb energy in the 10.3 to 10.7 micrometer wavelength of the infrared spectrum. These include vinyl chloride and many other compounds with strong chemical bonds.The different colors shown on the accompanying photo represent temperature differences.

How commonly are infrared cameras used by regulators?

It’s becoming more and more common for regulators to use infrared cameras for compliance and even enforcement. U.S. EPA has used them for several years. Within the last couple of years EPA has provided infrared cameras via grants to several state and local agencies throughout the U.S.

The regulators are here with their infrared camera, now what?

An inspector may use the camera during your next full compliance evaluation, or they may use it during a targeted, partial compliance evaluation. Either way, you need to understand what they may see with the camera and what that may mean for your facility.

They can NOT quantify or “speciate” (specifically identify) any gases seen with the camera. This can be advantageous to industry, but an experienced thermographer knows when they see a large amount of emissions. If any emissions are seen emitting from un-permitted areas, correction will most likely be required.

Will an enforcement action be taken based on infrared camera evidence?

Maybe. Infrared cameras are often used as a screening tool. They can tip off the regulator about a problem they would probably never have been found otherwise. As such, evidence obtained using an infrared camera will often be used as supporting evidence.

Should I buy an infrared camera? Possibly – but only if you are willing to pay about $80,000 for one. Should I have an evaluation performed at my facility by a service company? Maybe. It can be a good idea if you are concerned that you may have leaks of any compound that is detectable by an infrared camera. You can contact me if you want to know more.

Have you ever used an infrared camera at your site, and if so, what has been your experience?

Deanna Picklesimer has more than ten years of experience in air quality compliance. She is an Optical Gas Imaging Infrared Thermographer. She obtained her certification from the Infrared Training Center (a division of FLIR®).


Categories: Air Quality, Biogas and Landfill Gas, Environmental Planning & Compliance, Landfill Engineering and Design, Operations and Maintenance, Solid Waste
Posted By Deanna Picklesimer at 10:00 AM  |  1 Comment on What is an infrared camera – and how can it help me?

One Response to “What is an infrared camera – and how can it help me?”

  1. Thanks for improving our knowledge about cameras. It was an interesting reading.

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