University Team Tackles Corrosion
A coatings project at North Dakota State University (NDSU) not only seeks to improve the safety of pipelines when it comes to corrosion protection, but also enhances the career path of the students involved in the research.
The special coating system developed by the NDSU research team is designed to address corrosion in metal oil and water pipelines, the school announced Wednesday (Sept. 23).
According to the researchers, the coating delivers a safer, less expensive way to detect corrosion in the pipelines, the leading cause of breaks in the structures.
The team, led by Fardad Azarmi, associate professor of mechanical engineering, and Ying Huang, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, developed a coating that, when applied to the exterior of the pipe, will constantly monitor the condition of the metal.
This application will enable companies to avoid major problems along the pipeline, catching them before they happen, according to the engineers.
In practice, optic sensors are sprayed on the exterior of the length of the pipeline. In monitoring the pipe’s condition, the sensors will collect data and send it back to an inspector’s terminal.
Companies will be able to use this data to get real-time information related to pipe maintenance and replacement, they say. Additionally, they believe the technology will prove useful in areas susceptible to earthquakes and wildfires.
The research team sees this a major advance for an industry that relies on either visual inspections or the use of expensive sensing equipment to identify problem areas.
The NDSU engineers’ consider their technology inexpensive compared to manpower and sensing tools. The ability to catch hazardous areas on pipelines before they pose a more significant problem should also contribute to cost savings.
The sensors cost about $50, they say, and can last 10 times longer than other sensors.
The next phase of research for the team is to begin monitoring the inside of pipes as well.
Investing in Research
The team’s work is funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) Competitive Academic Agreement Program (CAAP).
CAAP seeks to stimulate research in the area of pipeline safety and looks to tap university graduate students to become part of the pipeline safety workforce in the future.
PHMSA seeks to offer 5 or more awards annually utilizing $100,000 from PHMSA plus an additional cost sharing of 30 percent by its university partners on each project.
Two grants have been awarded to Azarmi and Huang by the DOT, the most recent a three-year $375,000 award.
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The practical experience earned in the lab has made the students qualifed to work as pipeline engineers, inspectors, designers and corrosion engineers. Some have already accepted jobs in the field.
“The industry is thirsty for this technology and for people who understand it,” Azarmi says in the university statement. “We continue to improve it, and with every step we’re finding more companies and industries that are interested.”
The practical experience earned by the undergraduate and graduate student researchers participating in the project is already proving useful outside of school.
The students on the team are now qualified to work as pipeline engineers and inspectors, pipeline designers and corrosion engineers.
In fact, several have already landed internships or accepted full-time positions.
North Dakota happens to be home to part of the Bakken formation, which has contributed to an oil boom in the state.
According to a fact sheet in a Bakken Magazine overview of this summer’s Bakken Conference & Expo, the oil and gas industry represents almost 17 percent of private employment in North Dakota.
An NDSU study on the economic impact of the oil and gas industry on the state, the magazine reported, showed that there were $28.7 billion in oil and gas sales in 2013.
The state’s current pipeline crude export capacity is 827,000 barrels per day (BPD); it is expected to increase to 1.5 million BPD by 2017 and 1.85 million BPD by 2020.