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Eye on the Air

But on a computer screen a few feet away, the trajectory of the lighter’s vapor emission is revealed in curling snakes of thin, black smoke rising into the air.

Zeng gestures toward the screen.

“This shows what you can’t see with your eye,” he explains.

Zeng and other experts at Providence Engineering in Baton Rouge, La., have developed breakthrough software to allow industrial plants to immediately capture and analyze vapor leaks that are invisible to the human eye. The technology functions like night-vision goggles used by modern-day soldiers, using infrared technology to bring to light otherwise invisible dangers and providing a faster, better response to them.

The unique computer algorithm in Providence’s air-quality monitoring system is sophisticated enough to distinguish genuine vapor leaks from false positives, such as leaves blowing or a person walking.

If the system flags a leak captured by infrared cameras mounted at key positions in a plant, Providence’s equipment sends an automatic alert to an operator’s smart-phone. In effect, Providence’s technology replaces intermittent, time-consuming inspections by plant employees with a digital system for continuous monitoring and immediate response. That faster response means enhanced plant safety and cleaner air.

The technology – dubbed Third Generation Leak Detection and Repair, or LDAR3 – was pioneered by Providence, a company with many software products to improve air-monitoring systems.

“This is about safety and preventing air pollution,” says Senior Managing Partner Rich Major, a founder of the 181-employee firm.

Innovation is a way of life at Providence, a principle embedded in the environmental engineering and technology development firm. A case in point: The company used a Brownfields Program grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to turn an abandoned auto dealership into a sleek Providence headquarters with an open, contemporary vibe.

The firm has found unique advantages to operating in Louisiana. For several years, Providence has utilized the state’s Research & Development Tax Credit, which provides up to a 40 percent state tax credit for Louisiana firms that carry out research and development activities in the state.

Providence has also benefitted from Louisiana’s well-known incentive for movie production. The company has purchased the transferable tax credits from entertainment firms that do not owe in-state taxes, explains Major. Providence in turn has used the tax credit to lower its own tax bill, resulting in tax rebates that it has reinvested in the company’s operations.

The firm is now exploring Louisiana’s Digital Interactive Media and Software Development incentive, which includes a tax credit of 25 percent on qualified expenditures and a 35 percent tax credit on qualified in-state labor costs.

Meanwhile, Providence has more innovation in the works, including a potential game-changer for monitoring flares that relieve pressure at industrial plants. Providence’s patent-pending innovation uses infrared technology to provide a real-time measure of the combustion efficiency of industrial flares, something not previously available to industrial firms.

The technology allows operators to make immediate adjustments, optimizing combustion and minimizing the use of auxiliary fuel or steam assistance. When the technology enters the marketplace in the next year or two, it will enable unprecedented monitoring of flare-combustion efficiency and lead to cleaner, more cost-effective industrial operations.

“That’s what this is about: reducing air pollution and conserving resources,” Major says.