NETL Introduces New Pipeline Corrosion Sensors


The National Energy Technology Laboratory has announced a new development in advanced sensors for the detection and prediction of corrosion in natural gas pipelines.

The new sensors could aid in stopping ruptures and leaks that release methane and other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere and help mitigate climate change, NETL states.

New Sensor Technology

According to NETL’s release, the country’s natural gas pipeline network has around 300,000 miles of major interstate and intrastate pipelines and over 2 million miles of distribution lines.  

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, this large transportation network has helped deliver about 27.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas to about 77.7 million consumers in 2021.

The release added that methane is the primary component in natural gas, the second most abundant anthropogenic GHG after carbon dioxide. Though its lifetime in the atmosphere is much shorter than CO2, methane is reportedly over 25 times as strong as CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere.

“For the climate change and safety reasons, preventing leaks and ruptures anywhere along the natural gas pipeline network is a top NETL priority,” said Ruishu Wright, a research scientist and technical portfolio lead for the NETL Natural Gas Infrastructure Field Work Proposal.

The work on the proposal was reportedly done by Wright and Jagannath Devkota, with former colleagues Ping Lu and Paul Ohodnicki, and has culminated in the development of the new patented technology titled “Distributed Fiber-Optic Sensor Network for Sensing the Corrosion Onset and Quantification.”

The team's invention is intended to combat corrosion in natural gas pipelines through early detection using either optical fiber-based or passive wireless sensing technology. The network is able to monitor internal corrosion in pipelines by obtaining exact localized multi-parameter measurements of condensed water properties.

According to the team, the cost of rupture and leaks from natural gas pipelines totals $6 billion to $10 billion each year in the U.S.

“Therefore, a need exists to monitor corrosion inside gas pipelines to implement corrosion mitigation and control before any failure,” Wright stated.

Additionally, in April, Wright, Ohodnicki, Devkota and researchers Nathan Diemler and Nageswara Lalam filed for a non-provisional patent named “Distributed Multi-Parameter Sensors for Simultaneous Monitoring of Corrosion and Humidity: Optical Fiber Sensors and Surface Acoustic Wave Sensors.”

NETL’s pipeline sensor team has also reportedly finished multiple successful field tests of a large new collection of sensor technologies for natural gas pipeline monitoring that could help ensure safer and more secure natural gas pipeline delivery and mitigate methane emissions.

To ensure the technology's readiness level, the team reportedly focused on packaging the sensors and conducting field test validations at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio, Texas. Upcoming field tests with industry collaborators are also reportedly planned.

Wright, who has served as principal investigator on the project, explained that in the test, fiber optic sensors and surface acoustic wave sensors were installed outside and inside the natural gas-flowing multi-phase pipe test facility at SwRI. The test successfully monitored gas flow and leaks, internal water and corrosion and pipeline conditions such as pressures and temperature changes.

The distributed fiber optic interrogation technology reportedly allows for ongoing, real-time measurements along the entire length of a fiber optic cable. The optical interrogator system reportedly connects to an optical fiber cable and injects laser in the form of short pulses into the fiber, changing it to a number of distributed sensors.

The data reportedly found the exact location of events and conditions going on, at or near the fiber sensor cable. Optical fiber sensors can reportedly offer advantages over other types of sensors because they are small, lightweight, can endure high temperatures and pressures and are impervious to electromagnetic interference.

“These technologies can help operators learn about the precise location of potential pipeline safety threats and give the operator the opportunity to make timely responses,” Wright stated.

Previous NETL Pipeline News

In August, researchers from NETL developed a new self-healing cold spray coating for internal pipeline corrosion protection.

According to the release, the invention can help protect against corrosion in natural gas, hydrogen and carbon dioxide pipelines, preventing failure events such as explosions and methane emissions.

NETL’s Ömer Dogan, who worked on the innovation, stated that internal pipeline corrosion is a common problem. Dogan worked alongside NETL researchers Joseph Tylczak, Margaret Ziomek-Moroz and Zineb Belarbi.

The release explained that traditional approaches to fighting pipeline corrosion include the use of inhibitors or organic coatings such as fusion-bonded epoxy and polyurethane. However, the challenge with the injection of inhibitors in natural gas or carbon dioxide pipelines is reportedly the difficulty of transporting the inhibitor along the pipelines.

Dogan stated that another approach would be to use sacrificial coatings, or anodes, to protect the pipelines and equipment from internal corrosion. The anode reportedly undergoes oxidation more than the metal surface it protects, essentially stopping oxidation on the metal. However, Dogan said that these anodes tend to dissolve too fast in natural gas pipelines.

According to the release, cold spray is a high-energy solid-state coating and powder consolidation process for applications of metals, metal alloys and metal blends. Cold spray reportedly uses an electrically heated high-pressure carrier gas, similar to nitrogen or helium, to accelerate metal powders through a supersonic nozzle for particle adhesion.

The coating can reportedly be applied to the interior of a pipeline through the use of a robotic cold spray device attached to a pipeline pig.

The report adds that some of the features of the zinc-rich coating include:

  • Remaining stable regardless of temperature/pressure changes of the service environment;
  • Not forming defects during cold spray deposition resulting in its extended life;
  • Self-healing when damaged by forming protective corrosion products;
  • Not requiring a periodic application (long life); and
  • Being used as structural material to repair used/damaged pipeline.

Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; Coatings Technology; Corrosion; Corrosion protection; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Gas detectors; Greenhouse gas; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Latin America; North America; Oil and Gas; Pipeline; Pipelines; Pipes; Program/Project Management; Quality Control; Safety; Technology; Z-Continents

Join the Conversation:

Sign in to our community to add your comments.