Founder and President James Armstrong's company finds gas leaks for the energy sector and industrial users.
"I built this company for several things: to save the environment, to save resources, to save money, and things of that nature," says Armstrong.
Apogee Scientific is an applied R&D firm that primarily provides monitoring equipment to the energy sector. Its vanguard product is a unique, Colorado-made leak detection system (LDS) that helps utilities, oil and gas companies, landfills, and other industrial users detect and distinguish methane, carbon dioxide, or hydrocarbon leaks in real time. It offers a distinct advantage over most LDS systems that can take days to deliver results and they don't offer the clarity of what type of pollutant is being released.
Apogee has also patented technologies that monitor flue gas at coal-fired power plants to measure mercury concentration in the gas. "Anybody who has a continuous monitoring system is using some form of the patent we have and is still in effect," Armstrong says.
However, as natural gas has grown in popularity and interest in coal power has waned, the company is more focused on the LDS as well as other thermal imaging and other technologies that it supplies to the Department of Defense and other federal clients.
"We deliver good solutions to people in a cost-effective way and they come back to us," Armstrong contends. I keep track of every proposal written since 1993 . . . we have a 66 percent success rate in getting awards." He adds that the company also sees a lot of repeat business.
"Relative to the LDS, that's what really saves the environment. It saves the resource of natural gas, saves money for the people who use it, and it saves jobs. Ultimately, it protects health."
"We measure three gases simultaneously at detection limits of 0.25 parts per million. We actually run it lower than that, at 0.1 parts per million, but 0.25 parts per million is plenty sensitive and we measure very quickly. We take 50 samples a second. You can drive at highway speeds or if you're in a helicopter you can fly at reasonable speeds," Armstrong explains. The system can detect most leaks within 100 feet.
"The system has two mirrors in it and we have an infrared light that goes back and forth 40 times, which gives us a pass length that allows us to go those detection limits that are pretty phenomenal for this instrument," Armstrong says.
"You get instant information where the leaks are, you can quantify them, and you can tell whether it's a class 1, 2, or 3 leak," Armstrong says. By determining the class of leak the company can decide if it needs to be repaired immediately, if it can wait a little bit, or if the site should be monitored before taking action.
Apogee developed its LDS in 1998. "The current version of it has been around since 2001 or 2002. We've embellished it quite bit and continue to make upgrades to the software and all. The basic concept is the same. It's amazing to me that no one else has done it and has embraced it like we have for what we do," Armstrong says.
The devices are built to last, says Armstrong. "The very first beta unit we had of this design [in 2001] went to the City of Colorado Springs Utilities." He says the beta unit still works. Moreover, when the utility purchased the LDS it had two or three trucks and was roughly six months behind schedule.
"When they got our beta unit they got ahead six months," Armstrong asserts. "They bought two more. These units are built like battleships."
While the units are made to operate in harsh conditions, they're extremely precision instruments. As such the company maintains them for a small fee annually. "We clean them up, we re-certify them and we provide updates on the software," Armstrong states.
Challenges: "To get the story out about what we do and how well we do it. Convince people there are ways to do things smartly," Armstrong says.
Opportunities: "Better adoption," says Armstrong, noting that Apogee makes about six to 10 LDS units a year. "The more we make of these, we can get the price point down from where it is [$63,750]."
Needs: Thoughtful, sensible regulation. "Utilities don't mind finding solutions," says Armstrong. "But tell us what the regulations are and don't keep changing them."