Physicists and engineers at the University of California-Berkeley have developed a new system to monitor and prevent pipeline ruptures using MRI medical technology.
The system, by 4D Imaging Inc. of Berkeley, uses magnetic resonance imaging technology to remotely monitor the structural integrity of metal pipelines.
The new technology can help prevent failures like the 2010 PG&E pipeline disaster in San Bruno, CA, as well as other leaks, explosions and disruptions, according to scientists at 4D Imaging, which invented and patented the system.
Web-Based, Real Time
The system transmits the status of a pipeline to the Internet and gives operators a real-time picture of the line’s condition as it checks for corrosion failure or fractures at welds or support systems. A weld fracture was the origin of the San Bruno explosion, which killed eight people and flattened an entire neighborhood.
The monitoring is constant, and any change in the mechanical health of the pipeline is measured and transmitted immediately.
“We are excited to present this new technology,” says Dr. Glen Stevick, president and co-founder of 4D Imaging. "Our systems will lead the way to safer and more dependable pipeline operations for industry and the public."
The system, dubbed “Magnetic Response Imaging,” allows close monitoring pipelines in a way that can prevent disastrous breakdowns, said Stevick, who has more than 20 patents.
Stevick’s team includes emeritus UC-Berkeley physicist Professor Jerome R. Singer, the co-inventor of MRI technology used in hospital radiology departments.
How it Works
The MRI system can be installed on any pipeline. The system works by wrapping the pipe in wire coils:
• One set of coils is electrified, which magnetizes the steel pipe (over 90% of the world's pipelines are steel); and
• The second set detects the magnetic field being given off by the now-magnetized pipe.
When steel corrodes and degrades, it becomes less magnetic, so variations in magnetism represent areas that may have corroded or become compromised.
The 4D pipeline safety system interrogates the magnetic domains of steel pipe as a source of information. If the level of corrosion exceeds 0.008 of the pipe, the system will issue a warning that the area has become compromised. The pipe's temperature is also measured, both to account for changes in magnetism unrelated to corrosion and to track the pipe’s heat and cold stresses.
To minimize electricity usage, the coils electrify and record their data one at a time in sequence along the pipeline. It takes about three seconds to thoroughly test a segment of pipe. The data are then sent back to a computer and can be plotted against a schematic of the pipe, displaying areas that might require attention.
“As you can imagine,” said Stevick, “glancing at a computer screen to monitor pipeline safety beats the pants off of digging up miles of pipeline as a method of monitoring.”
More information: www.4DImaging.com.