Pipe locating sensor could help prevent natural gas leaks
Can locate buried ceramic, plastic and metallic objects
The sensor is a flat plate which, when placed on the ground, uses low-frequency electrical waves to detect buried objects.
Des Plains, IL - Successful early tests of a pipeline sensor that locates
plastic, ceramic and metallic underground pipes could help reduce
dangerous instances of natural gas pipeline breaks. The U.S.
Department of Energy is working with the Gas Technology Institute
(GTI), Des Plains, IL, to develop the prototype sensor which, if all goes
as planned, should be ready for demonstration by the end of this year.
The sensor is one of 11 gas
research projects selected
last year in a program
managed by DOE's National
The gas distribution industry
has needed such a tool for
decades. While not a
damage" -- typically caused
by construction crews or, for
example, power companies
erecting telephone poles -- is the single main reason for pipeline
damage. If unreported or undetected, serious consequences can result
years after the initial damage was inflicted.
The changes of pipeline damage will inevitably increase as the nation's
gas industry installs more transmission and distribution pipes to meet
the Nation's growing demand for clean burning natural gas. Demand
for natural gas in the United States is projected to expand faster than
any other fuel source during the next two decades, largely because
more power companies are using natural gas to generate electricity.
According to the Energy Information Administration, the amount of
electricity generated from natural gas could triple between 1999 and
The National Petroleum Council, an advisory committee to the
Secretary of Energy, recently forecasted the need for more than 38,000
miles of new gas transmission lines and 263,000 miles of distribution
mains by 2015.
Increasingly, plastic and ceramic materials are being used in newer
gas distribution pipes. In fact, GTI estimates that 72 percent of all
3-inch-diameter natural gas distribution pipes in the U.S. are plastic.
The sensor resembles a flat plate made of electrodes. When placed on
the ground, the sensor uses low-frequency electrical waves to detect
buried ceramic, plastic and metallic objects. The GTI sensor would
address long-standing problems that have impeded the industry's
efforts to detect non-metallic distribution lines, which are buried
anywhere from 3 to 10 feet deep. In a recent test, the sensor imaged a
four-inch plastic pipe beneath four feet of soil.
Competing sensors that use high-frequency waves are more expensive
and not as effective because soil more easily absorbs high-frequency
waves. High frequencies formed the backbone of detection systems
used by the military and mining industry because they produce clearer
images of metal objects. Borrowing components from these existing
sensors, GTI's low-frequency technique is enhanced by multiple
antennas that sharpen an image's resolution without the high costs
associated with electronics that support high-frequency sensors. The
low-frequency technique also detects non-metallic objects, a capability
that most other sensors don't have.
The Department of Energy's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time.