Sensor technology predicts pipeline leaks
Leak Prevention Inc. targets mining, oil and gas industries
A spinoff of Sudbury-based Fuller Industrial, a process piping manufacturer, has successfully demonstrated the effectiveness of a leak prevention system for rubber-lined pipes used in the mining industry and is now targeting oilsands producers in Western Canada.
Click here to watch a video of the company’s leak prevention technology.
Unlike leak detection systems that report leaks after they occur, Leak Prevention Inc.’s patented technology automatically alerts maintenance staff to leaks before they happen.
The technology includes a battery-operated leak prevention unit with a sensor probe and a conductive layer in the protective rubber liner inside the pipe.
“The conductive layer is made of rubber, but we worked with rubber manufacturers to chemically alter it using additives to make it conductive,” said Leak Prevention president Jeff Fuller.
As the abrasive or corrosive slurry or fluid travels inside the pipe, normal deterioration of the liner occurs. The sensor probe monitors the circuit between the steel pipe and the conductive layer. When the liner wears to the point where the slurry or fluid makes contact with the conductive layer, the circuit between the conductive layer and the steel pipe closes, triggering an email or text message to maintenance planners.
The message includes the location of the pipe or fitting and the part number. The leak prevention units can also be programmed to shut off valves, trigger audible alarms and automatically order replacement parts.
The leak prevention systems are installed at Vale’s Clarabelle Mill in Sudbury, at Barrick Gold’s Williams Mine in Hemlo and at the Pueblo Viejo Mine in the Dominican Republic.
In order to learn how long it would take for a pipe to leak following an alert, Vale ran it to failure, so they now know they have two weeks to replace a pipe before it starts leaking, said Fuller.
Knowing how much time they have, they can schedule repair or replacement during a scheduled maintenance shutdown, avoiding unplanned shutdowns, cleanups and environmental and property damage.
Fuller is now hoping to sell the oil and gas industry on the merits of leak prevention and is working with Alberta Innovates, a consortium of oilsands producers and suppliers to test the technology.
“They’re going to demonstrate the technology for the benefit of all the oilsands producers and publish their results – hopefully in the first of 2017.”
According to Fuller, the technology can work with unlined pipe, as well as pipe that is installed underground.
In an unlined system, the technology can monitor a conductive coating on the exterior of the pipe.
In gas and oil pipelines, for example, “leaks come from the outside in, not inside out (as is the case with rubber lined pipes conveying slurry),” explained Fuller. “Leaks are caused by blunt force – for example, when a pipe is hit by a backhoe – or as a result of a fault in the exterior coating which causes the pipe to rust.”
In underground installations, the system can use the actual pipe to transmit data to an antenna along the line, and if there is cathodic protection, the leak prevention unit wouldn’t even need a battery.
Leak prevention is far superior to leak detection, claims Fuller.
Leak detection systems monitor the flow along the line and any differences caused by leaks, “but if a leak is small, they’ll never know,” he warned.
“Despite all the systems that are available, 28 per cent of all leaks are reported by the public. The best leak detection system they have now is people telling them they have a leak. In a bad year, the cost of oil and gas leaks is over $5 billion in North America.”
Leak Prevention Inc. is using Fuller Industrial in Sudbury as a manufacturer and distributor, but plans to license the technology to other rubber liners and fabricators as demand takes off.