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High Marks for Earthquake-Resistant Pipe

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

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A new development at a university in New York could be good news for earthquake-prone regions worldwide: An earthquake-resilient pipeline design exceeded expectations in its most comprehensive test yet.

Researchers at Cornell University, in Ithaca, NY, have been studying the pipeline, made of steel by Japanese firm JFE Holdings. It is designed in a wave pattern that helps it to compress without breaking. The testing at Cornell was done in conjunction with an engineer from the City of Los Angeles, where the water system is subject to the stresses of seismic activity.

'It Surpassed Expectations'

In order to test the pipeline, the researchers buried it under 80 tons of soil, according to the university, and then “imposed 2 feet of fault rupture along a 50-degree angle, forcing the buried pipeline into a combination of compression and bending.”

Pipeline test aftermath
Images: Robert Barker, Cornell University

The pipeline accommodated the stress it was put under, without rupturing.

The test was a success; the pipeline accommodated the pressure without rupturing.

“It surpassed expectations,” said principal investigator Tom O’Rourke, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Cornell.


At only 8 inches in diameter, it’s a relatively small pipe, but those involved in the test say the principle could be applied to pipes up to 70 inches in diameter.

Pipeline testing

Researchers “imposed 2 feet of fault rupture along a 50-degree angle, forcing the buried pipeline into a combination of compression and bending.”

“We took the pipe to three times its current design standard, and it continued to convey water,” said Cornell engineering postdoc Brad Wham. “So we consider it a successful test and very promising technology.”

The Facility

The testing took place at Cornell’s Geotechnical Lifelines Large-Scale Testing Facility, a unique testing center where pipelines can be subjected to simulated seismic activity. In the past, the facility has tested pipes from other companies, including U.S. Pipe LLC and Kubota.

The Cornell center has worked with Los Angeles in the past.

“We modeled the Los Angeles water supply and have the entire system on a secure computer,” O’Rourke said. “We created the next generation of hazard-resilient network modeling, and they actually used it to develop policy and emergency response operations.”


Tagged categories: Colleges and Universities; non-potable water; Pipeline; potable water; Research

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