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Detecting Gas Leaks Hundreds of Meters Away with ABB Ability ™ Gas Leak Detection System


As we grow our pipelines, pipe safety becomes ever more important. Pipeline leaks are generally not a major problem if they are detected and fixed promptly. This means detection of gas pipeline leaks of odourless methane is extremely important.

In this interview, Doug Baer, from ABB, talks to AZoSensors about their new Gas Leak Detection System that can detect a leak several hundred feet away saving time and money.

Please tell us about the ABB Ability™ Gas Leak Detection System?

The ABB Ability Mobile Leak Detection System allows users (e.g., utilities, service companies) to find gas leaks in pipelines faster and with greater confidence than ever before. The system consists of an analyzer for measuring both methane and ethane quickly (at rates up to 5 Hz), a high-resolution GPS system, a sonic anemometer for measuring local wind velocity, a wireless 4G router, a laptop computer and proprietary software.

The software combines the measured gas concentrations, local coordinates, and wind velocity, with sophisticated fluid mechanical models to determine the likely location and emission rates of leaks. Moreover, these leak indications and emission rates are displayed onto Google Earth maps in real time on the laptop computer and, if desired, can be sent to the users’ secure server in the Cloud for remote monitoring while the vehicle travels along its route.

The system can be placed into the trunk of almost any vehicle and can be installed in about 4 hours. The system can be operational within 100 seconds after power on, requiring only time for the internal computer and local wireless network to boot.

Why did ABB create the Gas Leak Detection System?

Leaks in gas distribution and transmission pipelines present serious risks to communities and property (e.g., San Bruno pipeline explosion). Moreover, these leaks pollute the air and waste costly natural resources.

ABB created the system using our patented laser-absorption technology to serve as a tool to improve public safety while decreasing waste and pollution.

How will the ABB Ability™ Gas leak detection system help with emissions?

The system computes the emission’s likely location and rate from the measured gas concentrations, local coordinates, and wind velocity using proprietary models of plume structure and dynamics.

By knowing locations of, and emission rates emanating from, the leak sources, utilities can deploy appropriate repair crews resources to fix leaks swiftly and economically which will, in turn, reduce unwanted emissions into the atmosphere.

How can the system detect leaks hundreds of feet away? When a leak is detected, what happens next?

The system employs a patented cavity enhanced laser-absorption technology called Off-axis ICOS. This technology can detect single ppb levels of methane and ethane every second. Because the wind naturally carries trace quantities of natural gas far from the leak source, our extraordinary sensitivity allows the mobile system to quantify even small leaks far from the source while driving.

Moreover, by detecting both methane and ethane, our system can reliably distinguish between natural gas and other methane sources like landfills, animals, and agriculture.

The analyzer aggregates the various data streams (consisting of measured gas concentrations from the analyser, wind velocity from the anemometer, latitude and longitude from the GPS) and sends the data to the laptop, which performs the leak analysis and provides real-time data visualization that includes a graphical display of the survey route, survey area and leak indications.  

In addition, the system generates a thorough report that includes detailed analyses and results (including the emissions rate estimate) that can also be uploaded to Google Drive and securely managed by the customer for sharing or viewing from the customer’s command center. The team in the command center can then quickly evaluate the results and deploy resources as appropriate.

What is the system compatible with? Can it operate from anywhere?

The system can operate on almost any vehicle for finding leak while driving. Now, we even have modified systems for operating on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) for finding and mapping leaks and emissions while flying.

Traditional leak detection technology is very slow, costly and laborious. How will the Gas Leak Detection System improve this?

Improvements in speed, cost and labor are three of the ways in which the ABB Ability™ Gas Leak Detection System will benefit users the most and they’re all related to the speed and precision with which ABB’s Off-axis ICOS technology can measure changes in gas concentrations.

Fast, high precision, multi-gas measurements allow the vehicle to drive at normal road speeds (as opposed to a maximum of 10 mph for legacy mobile surveys that only measure methane) while still resolving the changes in methane and ethane concentrations caused by leaks.

In addition to higher driving speeds, ABB’s analyzers are 1000 times more sensitive than legacy mobile survey, which allows the system to detect leaks from further away, thus surveying more area with less effort.

What typical applications will benefit from having the Gas Leak Detection System?

Some applications that will benefit from the Mobile Leak Detection System include:

  1. Regular surveys of natural gas utility assets (to comply with local, state and federal requirements)
  2. Safety monitoring at industrial chemical, oil and gas plants and factories
  3. Emergency response investigations during sudden, unplanned events like the one in October 2015 at Aliso Canyon, which was caused by a leak in an underground storage facility.
  4. Air quality monitoring in megacities and urban centers to provide accurate measurements of local hotspots and quantify inhomogeneous pockets of pollution.
  5. Well-head monitoring to insure safety and minimize dangerous pollutants and waste of resources (near gas wells)
  6. Validation of carbon emissions for carbon trading and tax applications

How does the system reduce costs compared to previous models?

Previous models based on older technology required people to walk or drive within a few feet of the pipeline even to detect large leaks. Our mobile system detects leaks from hundreds of meters away from the source enabling surveyors to find leaks in far less time saving utilities considerable costs in finding the sources of leaks.

In addition, our system can quantify the size of the source emission rate (e.g., in liters per hour) which allows utilities to rank the various sources, prioritize the orders of repairs and deploy their service and repair resources appropriately. The increased sensitivity as well as the rate of finding and fixing leaks will reduce the number of catastrophic failures and loss of human lives.

What does this mean for the future of Gas detection?

Due to improved technology, gas leak detection can now be quantified far faster, more accurately and with fewer false positives (i.e., time consuming false alarms). In addition, new devices operate autonomously and include wireless connections allowing users to remotely monitor device performance continuously and securely.

In short, utilities will find leaks faster and deploy resources more intelligently to repair pipes and infrastructure quickly to increase public safety and decrease waste and pollution.


Where can our readers go to find out more?

For more information and a free test drive, see: http://new.abb.com/products/measurement-products/analytical/mobileguard or email us at [email protected]

About Doug Baer

Doug Baer, Ph.D. is president and general manager at ABB-Los Gatos Research and global product line manager of laser analyzers at ABB.  

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

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