Editor’s note: This article is part of a wider conversation between Antoine Halff, co-founder and chief analyst at Kayrros, Bogdan Gogulan, CEO and managing partner at NewSpace Capital, and James Bourne, editor at large at Sustainable Future News. The full audio conversation will be made available on Wednesday, November 1. Sign up here, or use the form below to hear it.
One of the biggest stories of 2023 shone a light on ‘mind-boggling’ methane emissions from Turkmenistan. The story came about through innovations in satellite and space technology, keeping a more watchful eye on our ailing planet. Sustainable Future News speaks with Kayrros, who uncovered the Turkmenistan emissions, as well as finds out what other technologies are out there.
In May, the Guardian reported on what was described as ‘mind-boggling’ methane leaks from Turkmenistan which caused more global heating in 2022 than the UK’s entire carbon emissions.
It was the sort of story which could touch the highest political echelons – and so it proved. A month later, it was reported that the US was involved in negotiating to plug the leaks. The president of Turkmenistan, Serdar Berdimuhamedow, launched two initiatives, including a roadmap to help the central Asian country sign the Global Methane Pledge, aimed at cutting global emissions by 30% by the end of the decade.
The source of the story was satellite data from Paris-based Kayrros, whose technology aims to ‘independently measure the footprint of human activity on the environment at a global level.’ If the name rings a bell, then it might be down to the company’s placing as one of TIME’s 2023 100 most influential companies, or in Fortune Magazine’s list of 50 companies changing the world in 2023. Kayrros is perhaps the best example of how the latest space race is involved with creating a sustainable future.
One of the company’s applications, Methane Watch, monitors methane ‘super-emitter’ events from oil and gas operations. Antoine Halff, co-founder and chief analyst at Kayrros, explains that while certain hotspots had been identified, this was another step forward. “There was awareness that there was methane coming from Turkmenistan, but this scale was not fully known, and it was not fully documented,” Halff tells Sustainable Future News.
“We were able to provide evidence, measurements, and it’s been really exciting to see the impact that it has had, because it has enabled a jump in what we could call ‘methane diplomacy’, led by the EU and also the US,” adds Halff. “The US has been able to use our detections, and the reporting that’s been done about our detections in the media, to speak to the government of Turkmenistan and get the government to come to the table and agree on the plan to reduce emissions.
“So we are starting to have a real world impact on reducing emissions.”
What underpins the work Kayrros and others are doing is a data gap – between greenhouse gas emissions reported by nations and those published by independent models. Research in 2021 calculated this gap at 5.5 billion tons of CO2, a figure the Washington Post described as ‘staggering.’
Bogdan Gogulan is CEO and managing partner at NewSpace Capital, who invests in various space technologies for sustainability – including Kayrros. “Their validation gives transparency to the process – and in this case, people can start trusting that, which is critical to achieve ESG goals,” Gogulan says of Kayrros.
“We see those efforts taking place, not just from the government and UN perspective, but also [from] these sustainable players,” Gogulan adds. “They are interested in measuring what the impact of their operations is; have they calculated things correctly? Is there something that they miss?
“It’s very important that it’s done from both sides,” says Gogulan. “It’s not just the policing of the emissions, but it’s also a conscious effort by the large players to see what the impact is and how they can minimise that impact.
“And it’s taking place no matter how much you want to do it. You didn’t have the data, you didn’t have the tools – now, there’s no excuse not to do it.”
From the political side, there are various other use cases Halff outlines; governments can establish inventories of greenhouse gases, or help implement policy tools, such as carbon border adjustment mechanisms. Yet the list of potential applications across industry are wide-ranging.
“There are many different use cases when it comes to detecting climate risks, wildfire risks, flooding risks,” explains Halff. “Insurers need to assess the risks of wildfires on assets, they might need detections to monitor events as they occur and to assess the damages, to accelerate and evaluate payments.
“Another [wildfire] use case is fire prevention and firefighting. We sell our data to firefighters, that helps [them] plan for their action during the wildfire season, but also to beef up prevention measures and to help companies and individuals protect themselves against the risk of wildfires.
“Bankers are increasingly now using our measurements to build emissions KPIs into their decision-making process,” adds Halff. “So [they] might decide to agree on a loan based on the footprint of the applicant, or might set the interest rates on the loan based on the methane performance of the borrower.
“When it comes to carbon emissions, they can now be used to monitor the demand for carbon credits on a daily basis, and can help carbon market participants monitor supply and demand or carbon credits. This can add liquidity and transparency to the market and make the market much more efficient.”
There are other examples of how space and satellite technologies can help towards a sustainable future in the NewSpace portfolio. Cailabs, also based in France, focuses on laser communication technology to, as Gogulan puts it, ‘democratise the communication industry’. This can help reduce the cost of the data, and the infrastructure, and potentially make spacecraft themselves more sustainable.
ICEYE, based out of Finland, is involved in the earth observation market, with its technology – the company was involved in developing synthetic aperture radar (SAR) technology for small satellites – providing high-resolution, low-latency images of the Earth’s surface across all conditions. “They are doing an absolutely fantastic job at helping to prevent and deal with disaster relief, which is huge as far as economic development and social development is concerned,” explains Gogulan.
“For persistent monitoring of the Earth’s surface, if you’re using optical sensors for earth imaging, you can only do the pictures when there are no clouds. And you have to have a source of light. SAR is used in radio technology which can travel through clouds and doesn’t require a source of light.
“So you can have the ability to actually assess the damage and supply that information to the disaster relief agency as in near real-time,” adds Gogulan. “That’s a huge impact that really changed the dynamics; it saves a lot of lives [and] it also helps to limit the damage from the disasters.”
So this is the here and now – what will the future look like? “What I wish is going to happen is there’s going to be wider adoption of the space data across the board,” says Gogulan. “If we’re going to make our industries more efficient, more productive, that’s going to have huge effect on the sustainability as well, simply because space infrastructure is more sustainable than the ground infrastructure.”
“I think we’re going to see more widespread and more systematic adoption of measurement technologies, and more systematic implementation of those technologies to enable policies, to enable abatement strategies, and to communicate about efforts that are being undertaken,” says Halff. “We’re still in the early days, and there’s new satellites coming on the market, there’s going to be new sources of information that we’re going to continue to tap into and harness.
“There’s new constellations of satellites, both public and private, which we provide data, that we’ll be able to analyse and to mix.”
“[It’s] also going to help us to create additional wealth, it’s definitely going to help fight against poverty, also they’re going to help us tackle a lot of the social challenges,” adds Gogulan. “We think that space has a critical role to play there.”
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