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EPSRC funds commercial gas-blockage detector

Researchers who pioneered the use of sound waves to detect blockages in undersea gas pipes have won funding to develop a commercial product.

The Acoustek system, developed by Manchester University, has already been used by Yorkshire-based Pipeline Engineering to survey pipes in the UK and US using off-the-shelf technology.

Now the inventors of the technique, which is shortlisted for an IET Innovation Award, plan to design new technology to give them better control over the process and to enable it to scan liquids as well as gases.

The system creates sound waves by sending out a high-pressure pulse of gas that is reflected by pipe blockages up to 10km away.

These can cost gas companies hundred of millions of dollars a day and are created when the gas, under high pressure and low temperature, forms solid hydrate deposits hundreds of metres long.

By comparing the reflected waves to a map of the pipe network, engineers can rule out reflections caused by bends and junctions, and pinpoint where the pipes are blocked. Remote-controlled vehicles can then remove and clean the blocked sections of pipe.

‘We’re trying to develop a new system where we can put in a pulse of a specific frequency that we could vary,’ Acoustek’s inventor Prof Barry Lennox told The Engineer.

‘If pumps and compressors are operating at a certain frequency then we can put our own pulse in at a different frequency so there’s less interaction with the different parts.’

The new technology, which will also help detect pressure waves in liquids as well as gases, will use a dedicated pressure transducer rather than a regular microphone to detect the reflected waves.

The EPSRC has provided around £100,000 to develop the new equipment, which is due to be completed by the middle of next year.

This follows around £600,000 of investment from the EPSRC, Pipeline Engineering and BP, which has used the system to scan blocked pipes in the North Sea.

Readers' comments (2)

  • Instead of removing the section of pipe with the blockage, would it feasible to try blasting it with a much higher power ultrasound (or other penetrating wave) system? The idea would be to gradually break up the blockage allowing the chunks of hydrate to be filtered out further along the line.

    This could be deployed from an ROV at the specific location of the blockage, and the same technology presumably could be used to monitor the progress of the blasting. If the pipe is buried, the tool could be pushed into the soil until it contacts the exterior pipe walls. This would all be much cheaper than removing and re-installing (including re-burying) the pipe.

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  • Have heat tracing installed inside the pipe, it may help and wouldn't need a huge energy input.

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