Oil and gas is transported through hundreds of thousands of pipelines above ground and across the ocean floor. When these pipes crack and leak, the results can be disastrous. Pipeline networks are susceptible to mechanical failures due to age and corrosion, among other factors.
According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) website, pipeline age and material are significant risk indicators. Pipelines constructed of cast and wrought iron, as well as bare steel, are among the oldest energy pipelines constructed in the United States and pose the highest-risk due to the degrading nature of iron alloys, the age of the pipelines, and pipe joints design.
Ensuring that piping and equipment is fabricated with the correct metal alloys is one way to help prevent pipe corrosion that can lead to mechanical failures. In-situ alloy steel material verification using portable x-ray fluorescence analyzers is an accurate, inexpensive, and nondestructive positive material identification (PMI) test method. Portable XRF analyzers verify that correctly purchased materials are received; confirms QA/QC for in-process fabrication; meets end user material requirements of outgoing products, and helps ensure that installed components and welds match the engineering design and application for which they are intended.
Aging infrastructure more often provides the challenge of “in-situ” or retro-PMI testing to confirm existing assets are fit for service. Read Conducting Retroactive PMI Using the Thermo Scientific Niton XL5 XRF Analyzer to learn more about how this analyzer meets all of the demanding aspects of retro-PMI testing.
When leaks do happen, they need to be detected immediately before substantial environmental damage can occur. Researchers from Mississippi State University may have come up with a novel solution to work alongside current pipeline monitoring equipment. As Inside Science explains, researchers are working to develop bacteria-based sensors that attach to pipe exteriors and emit a wireless alert signal when leaks are detected. A larger version of the sensor could be deployed to help cleanup efforts.
According to the article, the new sensor works like a battery and is based on microorganisms that live naturally in marine waters and sediments. Such microorganism also can feed on hydrocarbons like methane, ethane, butane, propane and pentane.
The anode side of the sensor is made from a porous membrane that contains a concentration of hydrocarbon-loving microbes. When hydrocarbon molecules pass through the membrane, the microbes eat them and send electrons across a resistor that regulates and measures the flow of electrons as they move toward the cathode. At the cathode, a colony of electron-eating bacteria enjoy a meal.
Under normal circumstances when there is no leak, the microbes feed naturally on organic compounds in the water or soil. But when they find hydrocarbons, their metabolisms increase, causing a spike in the electrons. This spike can be measured by the resistor or a tiny circuit in the cathode. If the spike goes over a threshold, the sensor could emit a wireless signal that notifies a technician.