DOE funds 11 R&D projects to improve gas pipelines

US Energy Sec. Spencer Abraham Thursday announced 11 government-industry projects that will develop high-technology ways to improve interstate gas pipelines' safety and performance. Research will include miniature robots and other methods to detect leaks or corrosion.

By the OGJ Online Staff

WASHINGTON, DC, May 31 -- US Energy Sec. Spencer Abraham Thursday said DOE will spend $4.4 million to help fund 11 government-industry projects that improve the technology for interstate gas pipelines' safety and performance.

Research will include work on miniature robots and other detection devices that can pinpoint leaks or corrosion in lines, an automated warning system to prevent nearby digging from damaging lines, and studies into use of a pepper extract to limit corrosion.

Abraham said, "If our projections are correct, by 2020 Americans will be consuming 50% more natural gas than today."

He said the pipeline modernization projects support President George W. Bush's energy policy.

Bush said May 17, "We will need newer, cleaner, and safer pipes to move these larger quantities of natural gas -- up to 38,000 new miles of pipe and 263,000 miles of distribution lines."

The announcement comes at a time when Congress is preparing to pass tougher pipeline safety measures. The Senate already passed legislation sponsored by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) that would require industry to increase inspections.

A pending House bill sponsored by John Dingell (D-Mich.) and James Oberstar (D-Minn.) would give federal regulators, through the Department of Transportation, a stronger role in maintaining safety. The White House favors the Senate bill over the House version.

DOE said project sponsors would contribute $3.6 million, or an average of 45% of costs.

New York Gas Group, New York City, will develop a self-powered, remote-control robot for inspecting the inside of distribution mains.

Tuboscope Pipeline Services, Houston, will develop a sensing system that uses sound waves and electromagnetic means to locate and gauge the severity of corrosion cracking in pipelines.

SQM Technology Inc., La Jolla, Calif., will develop a "magnetic telescope" that can be used on the surface to detect defects in buried lines. An electric current in a superconducting magnet would illuminate problems such as corroded pipe walls.

Battelle Memorial Institute, Columbus, Ohio, will attempt to expand the capabilities of magnetic flux leakage technology to locate cracks in gas lines. Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colo., will develop a micropilot ignition system for compressor engines that could be retrofitted to the thousands of 20 to 50-year old compressors now in use.

The Gas Technology Institute, Des Plaines, Ill., will lead three projects. It will develop a low-cost imaging sensor designed as a flat plate or flexible mat that could be placed on the ground to create images of subsurface plastic pipes, or ceramic and metallic objects.

GTI and Nicor Gas will develop an optical fiber device that would be buried above a pipeline and sound an alarm when nearby activities threaten to damage the line.

And GTI will research the use of natural products, such as pepper extract, to prevent or reduce corrosion caused by microbes in surrounding soil.

Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio, also has three projects. It will develop a device that uses sensing coils wrapped around a pipe to map out corroded surface areas. It will research an electromagnetic technology that can be installed in a smart pig.

And it will develop a surge detector that can be used with new control system algorithms to reduce instances when the equilibrium between the flow of gas through piping and through compressors becomes unstable, causing surges that can damage equipment.

More in Pipelines