Innovation in the pipeline: New inspection methods

Daniel Lemos of ABB talks about the importance of leak detection and innovation in that space

ABB, Drones, Pipelines, Inspection, Maintenance
Daniel Lemos, ABB vice president hub manager, MEA Measurement & Analytics
Daniel Lemos, ABB vice president hub manager, MEA Measurement & Analytics

Current traditional leak detection technology is slow, laborious and costly. Operators walk on foot, very near the pipeline, with low sensitivity, hand-held sensors making paper-based reports. Hand inspection is slow and can lead to dangerous leaks being missed or not identified in a timely manner. Other, more modern techniques such as thermal imaging or co-located optical fibre can be effective in detecting very large leaks but have cost and installation challenges.

By combining ABB’s state-of-the-art analysers with single parts-per-billion sensitivity with leading-edge turbulent diffusion analyses on a mobile platform, the ABB AbilityTM Mobile Gas Leak Detection System delivers a low cost-per-leak solution with low false positives. Reporting includes GIS-compatible mapping of the leaks available via a mobile app and measurements as a cloud-based service.

The ABB AbilityTM Mobile Gas Leak Detection System uses ABB’s patented Off-Axis Integrated Cavity Output Spectroscopy (OA-ICOS) technique, which boasts a sensitivity and precision more than 1000 times greater than legacy methods.

This technology allows users (e.g., utilities, service companies and scientists) to find and quantify gas leaks in pipelines faster and with greater confidence. By driving or flying these extremely sensitive sensors downwind of potential natural gas leaks and analysing the measured gas concentrations and wind velocity, ABB’s system can automatically detect the presence of leaks and predict their location from tens or even hundreds of metres away from the source.

The system consists of ABB’s Methane/Ethane Analyser with proprietary 3-D printed air inlet, GPS, sonic anemometer, wireless 4G router, and proprietary leak detection software that presents real-time geospatial maps of multiple gas concentrations, wind velocity and leak locations in real time.

The compact system can be placed into the trunk of almost any vehicle and can be fully installed in about four hours. The system can be operational within 100 seconds after power on, requiring only time for the internal computer and local wireless network to boot.

The analyser measures methane and ethane concentrations with high selectivity and single parts-per-billion (ppb) precision at a data rate of up to 5 Hz. The software’s sophisticated leak detection algorithm combines the system’s measurements of gas concentrations (CH4, C2H6), local coordinates (GPS) and local wind velocity (sonic anemometer) to estimate the location of leak source.

Predicted leak indications and emission rates are displayed on Google Maps or Open Street Maps in real time on the (included) laptop computer and, if desired, can be sent to the users’ secure server in the cloud for remote monitoring while the vehicle travels along its route.

Typical applications include pipeline integrity monitoring, surveying mains and services, odor investigation, construction verification, post disaster evaluation and frost line evaluation.

ABB has created a revolutionary, miniaturized version of our patented OA-ICOS technology to enable single parts-per-billion (ppb) detection of methane from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

This extends the capability of the ABB AbilityTM Mobile Leak Detection System to pipeline assets that are difficult or impossible to reach on the ground (e.g., pipeline that is underwater, under-bridges, in heavily vegetated areas or inaccessible right of way). When mounted on fixed wing, long endurance airframes, this technology also enables rapid survey of transmission pipeline without the need for co-located roads.

The miniaturized analyser has a weight of 3.0 – 3.4 kg (depending on configuration), a flow response and data rate of up to 5 Hz, consumes 32 watts during operation, and offers onboard software that logs UAV telemetry from ArduPilot and DJI A3 flight controllers.

The ABB AbilityTM Mobile Leak Detection System improves the efficiency of pipeline integrity operations by dramatically speeding the survey process and finding more leaks faster for a safer and more environmentally friendly pipeline network. Additionally, ABB offers sensors with ground-breaking sensitivity and speed for every stage of the integrity puzzle by offering inspection tools for ground-based vehicles, UAVs, handheld pinpointing and stationary monitoring.

While this is not currently being used in the region, there is high potential for sales wherever natural gas is stored, transported or used or any application requiring improvements in efficiency, safety and reduced waste.

The ABB AbilityTM Mobile Leak Detection System allows users to efficiently and rapidly improve the safety of their network, and it makes measurement from remote locations possible.

Still, some challenges persist—regulatory awareness of mobile leak detection systems is still evolving, as well as industry-wide acceptance of mobile leak detection best practices. ABB’s approach is new to many users, and the numerous benefits it offers require a reimagining of how operations utilise improved leak data in some cases.

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