Posts

How new technology is improving first responder safety

Written by Steve Pike, Argon Electronics

When the pressure is on to make quick decisions in emergency response situations, the value of practical personal experience is something that can never be underestimated.

But while the “human factor” remains an inestimable force, it is also essential that first responders have access to the appropriate technological support to enable them to work safely and effectively in the field.

In the US, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) works in close collaboration with the nation’s emergency response community.

Their recent projects have included the development of body-worn cameras that activate without responder manipulation, thermal sensors for firefighters that provide early detection of infrared radiation (IR), and wearable smart chemical sensors that warn responders of toxic exposure.

The International Forum to Advance First Responder Innovation (IFAFRI) brings together global industry and academia to identify common capability gaps within first response – in particular the ability to rapidly identify hazardous agents, and to detect, monitor and analyse hazards in real time.

More recently, an exciting array of new technologies have been put to use within the emergency services sector – including an eCall vehicle alarm system that delivers automated messages to emergency services following an accident, the deployment of drones for search and rescue, and the development of artificial intelligence (AI) solutions for firefighters.

Advancements in radiation safety training

New innovations in simulator detector technology for radiation safety training are also playing an important role in supporting first response personnel.

Unlike other forms of hazardous materials where the threat may be clearly evident, ionising radiation is a formidable and invisible force.

So it is even more vital that first responders are equipped with the correct tools, that they are skilled in interpreting the readings they obtain and that they are confident to act on that information.

Enhanced simulator training systems

Incorporating the use of simulator detector equipment in radiation training exercises offers an opportunity to significantly enhance the quality of a trainee’s learning experience.

The effectiveness of the training, however, will depend on a number of key factors.

Firstly there is the realism of the simulator’s user interface components (the visual display, indicators, switch panel, vibrator, sounder etc) which should be designed to match as closely as possible the look, feel and functionality of the actual device.

As trainees approach or move away from the simulation source, the response speed and characteristics of the simulation will also be important in providing an accurate depiction of the behaviour of the actual detector.

Also key, is the extent to which trainees are able to experience the practical applications of inverse square law, time, distance and shielding. Different shielding effects will need to be realistically represented, for example, as will the effects of user body shielding for source location.

The consistency and repeatability of the simulation will be vital in ensuring that trainees are able to repeat the same scenario, in the same location, and receive the same result – and that the readings obtained on different types of simulator are within the accepted tolerances of the actual detectors.

From the trainer’s perspective, the whole life cost of ownership of the device will undoubtedly be an important consideration.

It may be important, for example, that the simulator uses only the same batteries as the original detector, that it requires no regular calibration and that there is no need for costly and time-consuming preventative maintenance.

The development of innovative simulator detector technologies, such as Argon’s RadEye SIM, offers the opportunity for first responders to enhance the timeliness, precision and effectiveness of their response to radiological emergencies.

For radiation safety instructors there is also the benefit of being able to create highly realistic and compelling radiation training exercises that are free from regulatory, environmental and health and safety concerns.


About the Author

Steven Pike is the Founder and Managing Director of Argon Electronics, a leader in the development and manufacture of Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) and hazardous material (HazMat) detector simulators. He is interested in liaising with CBRN professionals and detector manufacturers to develop training simulators as well as CBRN trainers and exercise planners to enhance their capability and improve the quality of CBRN and Hazmat training.

Researchers Perfect Nanotechnology Tool for Studies of Nuclear Waste Storage

Researchers at the University of Guelph (U of G) recently published an article in Nature Scientific Reports in which they describe the first every use of antimatter to investigate processes connected to potential long-term storage of nuclear waste.  The team studied radiation chemistry and electronic structure of materials at scales smaller than nanometres.

The U of G team worked with collaborators at the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission and utilized the TRIUMF particle accelerator in Vancouver.  Based on these first-ever measurements at the accelerator, the team able to to show that their system is a proven tool that will enable radiation studies of material to be used to store nuclear waste.

“This system can now be applied along with other measurements to determine and help to potentially design the best material for containers and barriers in nuclear waste management”, said the U of G professor Khashayar Ghandi, the lead author of the research paper.

Currently, used nuclear fuel bundles – still highly radioactive — are held in vaults in temporary storage.  Long-term, experts aim to use deep geological repositories to permanently entomb the material. Buried in rock formations hundreds of metres underground, the fuel containers would be held in engineered and natural barriers such as clays to shield people and the environment from radiation. It takes almost 100,000 years for radioactivity from nuclear waste to return to the level of natural uranium in the ground.

The researchers also discovered the intriguing properties of clays that may make them useful in other industries. Clays may serve as catalysts to change chemicals from one form to another – a benefit for petrochemical companies making various products from oil. Other industries might use clays to capture global-warming gases such as carbon dioxide and use those gases to make new products.

The research may ultimately help in designing safer underground vaults for permanent storage of radioactive waste.  Other applications of the nanotechnology tool include new ways of generating and storing hydrogen, and technologies for capturing and reusing greenhouse gases.

Researchers scaling up technology that destroys PFAS contamination

Researchers from the University of Purdue recently received funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) to scale up a patented technology that can destroy poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in groundwater.

PFAS include perfluorooctanesulfonate (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and other perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs) and are found at more than 600 military training sites across the United States where firefighter training involved the use of PFAS-containing foams. They also are found at airports, which use similar chemical foams to put out fires.

PFAS have been linked to cancer, thyroid dysfunction, liver disease, immune system impairment, and other serious medical concerns. The compounds also are found in contaminated drinking water.

Linda Lee, a professor of agronomy in Purdue’s College of Agriculture, has patented a technology that destroys PFAS through the use of a permeable reactive barrier constructed in the subsurface.  Ms. Lee stated, “Our approach is different from current technologies, which are focused on capture and not destruction. We target compound destruction with a design that has potential to be used as part of a permeable reactive barrier underground to eradicate these compounds in groundwater to keep them from spreading.”

compounds graphic

“This is a significant problem because these compounds, which are found in our blood, drinking water, homes and products, do not degrade naturally,” Lee said. “Our team has patented technology involving the use of nickel and iron nanoparticles synthesized onto activated carbon to capture, attack and destroy the compounds.”

Recently, Lee’s team received part of a $6 million science to achieve results grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to address the issue of the compounds ending up in waste streams and eventually drinking water. The latest award comes after the team received earlier funding from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense. The team’s recent work also has included international partnerships in Pakistan through The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

Lee patented her nanoparticle innovation through the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization. She is looking for additional partners to help scale up the work.

 

Using Block Chain Technology to Track Hazardous Materials

There is increasing focus on the utilization of Blockchain technology which you can learn more about at websites similar to cryptoevent.io if you’re interested in trading the currency to track hazardous materials and hazardous waste. Blockchain technology allows for a system where records can be stored, facts can be verified by anyone, and security is guaranteed. The software that would power such a system is called a “blockchain”.

Blockchains store information across a network of computers making them both decentralized and distributed. This means no central company or person owns the system and that everyone can use it and help run it. This makes it extremely difficult for any one person to take down the network or corrupt it. This is why it’s so beneficial for so many industries to use blockchain software, such as blockchain technology in real estate. And let’s not forget this is another of the reason why many people enjoy buying bitcoin from websites similar to bitcoin.com.au. So they can analyze and develop new blockchains off of the lessons that can be learned from taking a deeper look at the most popular blockchain technology at the moment.

In essence, a blockchain is a super-secure digital ledger, where transactions records are kept chronologically and publicly. According to experts, the technology would also make it easier to track shipments of hazardous materials and waste. It could even help with regulatory compliance.


The management of hazardous materials/waste through blockchain would result in more open and coordinated movement among generators, transporters, users, and and recyclers. It would also enable the government to more efficiently and openly regulate hazardous materials movement and hazardous waste management. The imbalance between the organized and unorganized sectors would shrink and lead to increased transparency throughout the process.

Tracking Waste Using Blockchain Technology

The technology that powers cryptocurrencies like bitcoin are slowly making way into hazardous materials transportation and hazardous waste management.

As reported in Hacker Noon, Jody Cleworth, the CEO of Marine Transport International said, “The shipping of recovered materials is necessarily heavily regulated, and we’ve had a real impact in simplifying the process while remaining compliant.” Marine Transport International is a New Jersey-based freight forwarder. The company just completed a successful blockchain pilot. This pilot created a common tracking system linking up recycling suppliers, port operators, and ocean carriers.

Phil Rudoni, Chief Tech Officer at Rubicon said that “A big issue the waste industry faces is the lack of accountability for the end destination of recycled material. Rubicon is an Atlanta-based tech startup that provides cloud-based recycling and waste services.

It has always been a challenge to track hazardous materials and waste. With blockchain, it is believed that it would be much easier. It wouldn’t be so difficult to design a system where hazardous materials could be tagged with scannable Quick Response or QR-Codes (two-dimensional barcode) and then tracked at each step of the recycling supply chain. The tracking could be done by the generator, regulator, receiver, the general public, and any other interested person.

Examples of blockchain technology in waste management

The Several waste initiatives have seen the potential of incorporating blockchain technology. One if such initiative is the Plastic Bank, a global recycling venture founded in Vancouver by David Katz and Shaun Frankson. Its main aim is to reduce plastic waste in developing countries like Haiti, Peru, Colombia, and the Philippines. It has plans to extend it’s territory this year.

The Plastic Bank initiative pays people who bring plastic rubbish to bank recycling centers. One payment option is the use of blockchain-secured digital tokens. The tokens can be used to purchase things like food or phone-charging units in any store using the Plastic Bank app.

The plastic brought into the Plastic Bank is bought by companies and recycled into new consumer products. This system is more attractive because blockchain’s transparency means all parties can see and monitor where their effort and/or investment goes.

How can a multi-gas detection simulator enhance emergency response?

Written by Steven Pike , Argon Electronics

The growth in global industry and manufacturing, together with the ever-present risk of terrorist threat, means emergency personnel are increasingly being required to respond to incidents where there is risk of exposure to explosive atmospheres, low or enriched oxygen, or the presence of lethal toxic vapours.

For response crews arriving on scene there are two essential questions to consider. Is the air safe enough to breathe? And are there any specific toxic gases present?

Gas detection is fundamental to emergency response – and multi-gas detectors are the ideal tools for serving the majority of first responders’ gas detection needs.

Ensuring that crews have access to the right air-monitoring equipment, and that they’re trained in how to use it, is essential for enabling them to make confident decisions in complex scenarios.

In this blog post we provide an overview of the most common types of air-monitoring equipment. And we explore how gas detection simulators can aid in the effectiveness of first response training. 

Portable multi-gas detectors come in a variety of styles and configurations, some with the ability to detect up to six gases at a time. So let’s first consider the four most common types:

Catalytic combustion sensors – in which a heated wire is used to detect a wide variety of flammable gases from natural gas leaks to gasoline spills. In catalytic combustion, power is applied to a special wire coil, in much the same way as a traditional light bulb. Any combustible gas that is exposed to the sensor will react on the wire surface and produce a display reading.

Electrochemical toxic gas sensors – which are used to detect the presence of toxic hazards. An electrochemical sensor is similar in design to a small battery except that the chemical component that is required to produce the electric current is not present in the sensor cell. As the target gas diffuses into the membrane of the sensor, this reacts with chemicals on the sensing electrode to produce an electrical current.

Infrared detectors – commonly used to detect gases that are less reactive and therefore cannot be detected using typical electrochemical cells (such as CO2 or hydrocarbons). Instead of relying on a chemical reaction, infrared sensors determine the amount of gas present by measuring how much light the specific gas absorbs.

Photoionization detectors (PID) – which are used to detect volatile industrial compounds (VOCs) such as methane which can be present during industrial spills. PIDs rely on the specific chemical properties of the VOCs, but instead of absorbing light they use a light source in the UV spectrum to ionize electrons off gas molecules.

Realistic multi-gas detection training

The last decade has seen an increasing demand for advanced training tools to create the highest levels of realism, to reinforce instruction and to enhance student learning.

The use of intelligent simulation technology for chemical warfare agent training is well established. And now that same pool of knowledge and expertise has been applied to training in multi-gas detection.

One such example is Argon Electronics’ Multi-Gas SIM – an App-based simulator that provides instructors with the ability to set up complex multi-gas training scenarios using an android phone.

The simulator is highly configurable which means instructors can set the number of gas sensors they they want their students to view and they can select the type of sensor (be it infrared, electrochemical, PID etc).

They can also program the alarm settings in accordance with the operational detectors in use – so as students move around the training environment, their display readings will adjust to simulate events such as a breached alarm.

The option of an instructor remote means that trainers can remotely monitor student readings and activity, to further stimulate discussion and reinforce knowledge.

For those wanting to implement large-scale releases, the multi-gas simulator can also be used with Argon’s PlumeSM system to provide an enhanced level of realism and a more focused training experience.

Realism, repeatability, safety and efficiency are all key to effective HazMat training.

Simulator detectors tools such as Argon’s Multi-Gas SIM promise to play an invaluable role in aiding trainees’ understanding of gas detection to ensure the right decisions are made, however challenging the scenario.

About the Author

Steven Pike is the Founder and Managing Director of Argon Electronics, a leader in the development and manufacture of Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) and hazardous material (HazMat) detector simulators. He is interested in liaising with CBRN professionals and detector manufacturers to develop training simulators as well as CBRN trainers and exercise planners to enhance their capability and improve the quality of CBRN and Hazmat training.

Oil Spill Response using Real Time Tracking and GIS Technology

A new project taking place of the coastline of St. John’s Newfoundland aims to reshape marine oil spill response through real-time tracking and GIS technology.

Integrated Informatics Inc., headquartered in Houston,Texas, recently received funding from the Newfoundland and Labrador Innovation Council to undertake a project that will aim to reshape the way in which asset and personnel tracking are handled for Marine Oil Spill Response in Newfoundland and Labrador.

In November 2008, the Odyssey, a British-owned oil tanker, broke in two, caught fire and sank in heavy seas about 900 miles east of Newfoundland, spilling about a million barrels of oil.

The project will include the development of a new Tracking Data Management System to be deployed to Marine Emergency Response Industry users.

A spokesperson for Integrated Informatics, Sharon Janes, stated in a press release, “It is not uncommon to still see paper maps and documents heavily relied upon in Emergency Response Plans. The problem with these resources is that they do not present information that is as complete and current as possible within an emergency situation. This is what we are excited to help change – putting this data into the hands of responders as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

The Tracking Data Management System will be completed by August 2019, consisting of a suite of applications for asset and personnel tracking and a data management system to streamline the acquisition of data necessary for emergency preparedness exercises and active response within command centers. These products will utilize Geographic Information System (GIS) technology – including rich mobile and web interfaces – as well as a robust data analytics and reporting dashboard.

Ms. Janes also stated, “By accessing asset and personnel tracking data through mobile devices and the web, first responders will be able to more efficiently interpret data, analyze trends, and plan response in real-time. Because this system rests on such a familiar platform [mobile, web], those with technical and non-technical backgrounds alike will be able to implement it into their workflows with ease.”

The planned system is one that has long been of interest within the Emergency Response and Natural Resources sectors of the Province – especially as organizations explore new, more challenging environments alongside their own endeavors to align processes and practices with innovative digital technologies.

Integrated Informatics Inc. is a consultancy for Geographic Information System implementation and development. Founded in 2002, Integrated Informatics has offices in Calgary, Alberta, Houston, Texas, and St. John’s, Newfoundland.

Innovative Technology to streamlines brownfield industry projects

As reported by Martin Menachery in Arabian Oil and Gas, Over 95% of projects in the process industry in the Middle East (and comparable percentages around the world) are retrofits or expansions of existing plants that seek to increase capacity, comply with regulations, or introduce new technology to improve performance. To do this, many businesses opt to utilize the services offered by ICE process management in order to bring their facilities up-to-date. With technology advancing at a rapid rate, managing all types of businesses and facilities is becoming easier for all and focus on the task at hand, these services provided by companies such as Road to Reliability make management just a thought in the back of your head, not a problem each morning.

Moreover, often the building of a new plant is done on the brownfield site of an existing facility. For all these projects, capturing and modelling the existing context is critical to decision making and both conceptual and detailed engineering design. 3-D Software reality modelling technology is increasingly being leveraged to support these critical workflows.

In this year’s submissions for the ‘Be Inspired Awards’, there are five excellent examples using reality modelling technology in the process industry, demonstrating how this technology has now become an essential part of any brownfield or greenfield plant design project.

UCB, a global biopharmaceutical company, is using reality modelling for its iconic manufacturing plant in Belgium (which was established in 1928) to assess options and communicate ideas to help this complex and established site become carbon neutral by the year 2030.

ContextCapture was used to create an engineering-ready 3D model of the entire complex, including all the buildings, production facilities, roads, and parking areas, using both drone and terrestrial photography.

This context enabled the engineering team to quickly produce a 3D model to convey ideas and determine options. Point-cloud data from laser scans was then added to the model to enable accurate quantities to be calculated and precise measurements to be given to contractors for the priority work packages.

ABS Steel needed to modernise the fume extraction system for its large steel complex in Udine, Italy, to meet new regulations. It did not have a survey of the entire site since the complex was the result of a merger of two plants in 1988. ABS Steel awarded the contract to BM Engineering to survey the site.

It used laser scanning for inside the plant and photography for outside the plant, creating a combined engineering-ready model in MicroStation using ContextCapture and Bentley Pointools, which was read into AECOsim Building Designer and used to design the new fume extraction system. The model was then used to test the structural integrity of the aging parts of the factory.

By using a drone to capture photos of the roofs of the industrial buildings, and using ContextCapture to accurately create the 3D model, the project avoided the need to construct at least 70,000 temporary structures (guardrails, walkways, ladders, PPE, etc.) to conduct the survey work.

Flightline Geographics (FlightlineGeo) solved a problem for an owner of an ethanol plant in Kansas, United States, plant expansion of which was impeded by a lack of a drainage plan that would satisfy the local municipality. Traditional alternative methods, such as ground surveying and either ground or aerial LiDAR, were eliminated as possible solutions due to the short time frame and limited project budget involved.

A drone was able to survey this 200-acre ethanol plant site in one hour. (Image courtesy: FlightlineGeo)

It was decided to use a drone (UAV) and, once survey ground control was placed, the UAV capture of the 200-acre site was completed in a single one-hour flight. The team used ContextCapture to produce the 3D model that engineers needed to quickly calculate the results for the drainage and construction study, which was presented to municipal authorities a few days later.

Moreover, the team leveraged the same work to create a 3MX reality mesh that could then be used for visualisation within the Acute 3D viewer. It took just one week to conceive, capture, process, and deliver the project, and gain approval.

Technical Solutions International (RBI) is a world-class engineering inspection company headquartered in Durban, South Africa. RBI has deployed a solution that combines the use of unmanned autonomous vehicles (UAVs or drones), 3D reality modelling software (ContextCapture), a geographical information system (Bentley MAP), and engineering documentation management (ProjectWise) to manage the entire inspection process.

Its clients include petrochemical, pulp and paper, power generation, and telecommunications firms. The new process enables RBI to deliver more competitive services to its clients that speed survey time considerably and increase the value and visibility of its inspection survey data.

“UCB SA is driving a ‘smart factories’ initiative, leveraging Industry 4.0 and Bentley technology. Our objective is to reorganise production so that we are more adaptable and effective in the allocation of resources. We store our engineering data in ProjectWise for better collaboration among colleagues,” said Joseph Ciarmoli, Head of CAD engineering, UCB SA.

“Using ContextCapture for 3D modelling of our site provides geo-referencing and allocates geographical coordinates to our data. Analysing the 3D model together with the orthophoto drawings provides the official record of our land registry data, waterways, and buildings,” added Ciarmoli.

“We can also bring this 3D model into AECOsim Building Designer to support any building design changes. For proposed modifications to our production facilities, we use OpenPlant Modeler and OpenPlant Isometrics to provide precise 3D data for contractors and to automate the detection of clashes between pipes, structures, and equipment,” observed Ciarmoli.

“The interoperability of Bentley products has made it possible to optimise and significantly reduce the survey and reality modelling time, while also allowing a BIM model to be created that can easily be used by all stakeholders (structural and plant designers), who have decidedly and significantly improved the efficiency of their integrated design, allowing the implementation of the first revamping phase to be reached just three months after delivery of the BIM model,” said Marco Barberini of BM Engineering.

“Reality modelling using ContextCapture from Bentley enabled FlightlineGeo to process a large amount of data into information for the client in near real time. The project was completed ahead of time and under budget, allowing the company to acquire its expansion permit and move on with production of renewable energy,” commented Devon Humphrey, CEO, FlightlineGeo.

“Bentley’s range of products and integration between their products and our automated UAV systems gives us and our clients an added advantage against an ever-improving competitive market. The future we live in today,” said Stanley du Toit, technical and solution director, RBI Technical Solutions International.

3D design and conceptual model of the city of Coatesville’s “The Flats” brownfield redevelopment, a rugged, 30-acre former steel-mill site located 40 miles west of Philadelphia.

Arsenic found to control uranium contamination

As reported by World Nuclear News, an international team led by the University of Sheffield has discovered that the toxic element arsenic prevents uranium from an abandoned mine in the UK migrating into rivers and groundwater.  The discovery could help in the remediation of former uranium mines and other radioactively contaminated areas around the world, the scientists believe.

The team of scientists – led by the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Sheffield – studied the uranium and arsenic in the topsoil at the abandoned South Terras uranium mine in Cornwall, England.

The researchers used some of the world’s brightest synchrotron X-ray microscopes – the Swiss Light Source and the USA’s National Synchrotron Light Source – to unearth what is believed to be the first example of arsenic controlling uranium migration in the environment.  These microscopes use intense X-ray beams to focus on a spot just one-millionth of a metre in diameter.

“We use synchrotron X-rays to identify and isolate the microscopic uranium particles within the soils and determine their chemical composition and mineral species,” said co-author of the study, Neil Hyatt.  “It’s like being able to find tiny uranium needles in a soil haystack with a very sensitive metal detector.”

Source: © Claire Corkhill
The abandoned South Terras mine in Cornwall where uranium was mined until 1930

According to the study – published on 14 December in Nature Materials Degradation – ore extraction processes and natural weathering of rock at the South Terras mine has led to the proliferation of other elements during degradation, particularly arsenic and beryllium, which were found in significant concentrations.  The arsenic and uranium were found to have formed the highly insoluble secondary mineral metazeunerite.

“Significantly, our data indicate that metazeunerite and metatorbernite were found to occur in solid solution, which has not been previously observed at other uranium-contaminated sites where uranyl-micas are present,” the study says.

Claire Corkhill, lead author of the study, said: “Locking up the uranium in this mineral structure means that it cannot migrate in the environment.”

The researchers concluded that this process at South Terras – which operated between 1873 and 1930, producing a total of 736 tonnes of uranium – is the result of a set of “rather unique” geological conditions.  “To identify this remediation mechanism at other sites, where arsenic and uranium are key co-contaminants, further detailed mineralogical assessments are required,” they said.  “These should be considered as an essential input to understand the ultimate environmental fate of degraded uranium ore.”

“The study has far-reaching implications, from the remediation of abandoned uranium mines across the world, to the environmental clean-up of nuclear accidents and historic nuclear weapons test sites,” according to the scientists.  “It also shows the importance of local geology on uranium behavior, which can be applied to develop efficient clean-up strategies.”

Innovations in Pipeline Design: Leak-proof technology

By Dema Mamon, M.Sc.Pl, BES and John Nicholson, M.Sc., P.Eng.

In Canada, getting approval to construct an oil pipeline has become increasingly difficult. Despite the fact that new, advanced software has led to more sophisticated caesar piping, in Canada every oil pipeline incident that involves a leak and subsequent clean-up is widely covered in the media, providing fuel for pipeline opponents that call an end to the construction of new pipelines.

Abacus Data Inc., an Ottawa-based research firm, has been tracking public opinion on the construction of new pipeline capacity and has found some interesting trends. Since 2014, polling has shown that the negative view of building new oil pipelines has remained steady at 21 to 22% range. However, there was a drop in the positive attitude amongst Canadians toward building new pipelines – from 58% in 2014 to 44% in 2017. Over that three year span, a good proportion of Canadians who once viewed building new pipeline capacity with a positive attitude have shifted to a neutral view, which will have a pipe heater around the majority of them to reduce heating. The neutral view on oil pipelines has grown from 20% in 2014 to 36% in 2017.

There can be many theories to explain the three year shift in public opinion on new oil pipelines. One plausible theory is that oil spills from pipelines typically make headline news, thus leaving an impression in the minds of Canadians the perhaps pipelines are not as safe as the industry states. Oil leaks from pipelines damage the environment, are costly to clean-up, and fuel public opinion that pipelines are not safe. To prevent future spillages and oil theft, the use of something like bunded fuel tanks would be a good place to start, especially since they are environmentally friendly. Anything worth saving the planet and preventing damage is worth doing for sure.

One way to eliminate the perception that building new oil pipelines is bad for the environment and shift public opinion in favour of such projects is to build pipelines that don’t leak. However, is it even possible to build leak-proof pipelines?

Are Double-Walled Pipelines the Answer?

One logical idea for building leak-proof pipelines is for them to be double-walled. The outer wall would serve as protection from external damage. The technology does exist to construct double-walled pipelines and they are used in certain circumstances such as when there is a large temperature difference between the liquid in the pipe and the surrounding environment.

Double-walled pipelines are not considered the cure-all by some in the industry. Those resistant to the use of double-walled pipelines note that in some instances, it may be more cost effective to protect pipelines from the potential of external damage by burying them or placing slabs over them in higher risk areas. Furthermore, it can be more difficult to monitor a double-walled pipeline and an outer pipe interferes with the maintenance of the inner pipe.

At the University of Calgary, researchers believe their two-walled pipeline design and monitoring system is the solution to preventing spills. Although double-walled pipelines have been around since the 1980’s, Thiago Valentin de Oliveira, an electrical and computer-engineering master’s student, and Martin Mintchev, an engineering professor, say that their design is superior.

The U of Calgary researchers designed and constructed their prototype to consist of a typical steel inner layer with either a steel or plastic outer layer. There is an air gap between inner and outer pipeline contains the oil that leaks from the inner pipeline leak. The real innovation developed by the U of Calgary is the segmentation of the inter-pipe space and the inclusion of a linear wireless network linking the segments. With the segmentation, a leak of oil from the inner pipe enters the air gap between the two pipes and is contained in a section of pipe. Wireless pressure sensors between the two walled layers detect the pressure build up and send an alert to the pipeline control staff.

If commercially implemented, the U of Calgary system would allow pipeline operators with the means of quickly shutting down the pipeline when a leak was detected into the outer pipeline and crews could be dispatched to make repairs. The oil that leaked from the inner pipe would be contained in the air gap between the two pipes and be confined to one section of the pipeline.

The U of Calgary researchers estimate that their design would result in an additional 25% in the capital cost of building pipelines. They believe this cost could be reduced if the outer pipeline material was composite materials or plastic.

Is Advanced Monitoring the Solution?

Also in Alberta, a Calgary-based firm, HiFi Engineering, recently announced that it has developed an innovative pipeline leak detection system. Dubbed High-Fidelity Dynamic Sensing (HDS™), the monitoring system can spot the exact location of a leak in a pipeline within seconds of it occurring. The system continuously monitors temperature, sonic and ultrasonic acoustics, and vibration and strain. Any anomaly in the measurements results in an alert being sent to the pipeline company control room.

Hifi Engineering’s High Fidelity Dynamic Sensing (HDS) technology is being called the ‘ears of pipeline monitoring.’

The system works utilizing fiber optic cables that run the length of the pipeline. A laser beam is sent down the length of the optic cable and sends signals back that provide a multitude of information to the pipeline control room.

TransCanada Pipelines Corporation has already installed the HiFi HDS™ monitoring system in sections of the Keystone XL oil pipeline that runs from Canada to the U.S. Also, Enbridge employs the technology in its new northern Alberta pipeline.

_____________________

About the Authors

Dema is a graduate of York University’s Bachelor in Environmental Studies program (2008) and the University of Toronto’s Masters of Science in Planning Programme (2010). She is currently pursuing her Canada Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design’s Green Associate certification. Her research interests include environmental conservation, green infrastructure, and sustainability. She can be reached at [email protected].

John Nicholson is the editor of Hazmat Management Magazine. He has over 25 years of experience in the environmental and cleantech sectors. He is a registered professional engineer in the Province of Ontario and has a M.Sc. in environmental engineering. His professional experience includes time at a large engineering consulting firm, a major Canadian law firm, and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change.