A Waltham, MA-based company whose technology for detecting land mines is being used in Iraq and Afghanistan has adapted the technology for commercial use to pinpoint the location of both metal and plastic underground natural gas pipelines in an effort to cut down on the incidents of third-party damage, according to the Department of Energy (DOE).
The technology, which can detect pipelines buried as deep as 10 feet, was demonstrated earlier this year at a field test in Florida, which was sponsored by the DOE.
CyTerra Corp. developed the “lightweight, handheld” detector with funding from DOE’s natural gas research program, the department said last Monday. Termed LULU — for Low-Cost Utility Location Unit — the technology is an adaption of the company’s Hand-Held Stand-Off Mine Detection System, which was developed to assist the U.S. Army in locating anti-tank and anti-personnel mines.
A key feature of the technology is its capability to discriminate between metal and plastic pipes, the department noted. Current commercial detection methods rely on magnetic devices and cannot identify plastic pipelines. This has been a major drawback of existing technology, given that newer gas distribution pipes are being constructed from plastic and ceramic materials, it said.
The Gas Technology Institute estimates that 72% of all three-inch diameter gas distribution pipes in the United States now are plastic. These pipes are commonly used for service lines that deliver gas from the gas main to the meters of homes and businesses.
The new detector is expected to help in the prevention of third-party damage to pipelines, which occurs when construction or excavation crews inadvertently strike underground utility lines, the DOE said. Last year, the federal Office of Pipeline Safety reported third-party damage caused nine fatalities, 45 injuries and an estimated $23 million in damages.
Like its military version, the LULU technology relies on ground penetrating radar. To adapt it for pipeline detection, CyTerra engineers altered the frequency band and antenna size of the system to increase the depth detection range from shallow mine depths of inches up to 10 feet for pipeline detection, the DOE said. When the radar passes over a buried pipe, signal-processing techniques provide real-time output by producing a series of beeps to alert an operator.
“We currently are looking for a partner to go into production” on the utility location unit, said Dr. William Steinway, head of research and development for CyTerra. “We’re not exactly in that end of the business. We really are a government contractor.” He noted that several producers of locator units for metal pipes have expressed an interest in manufacturing the LULU unit.
Hopefully, Steinway said, production of the unit will begin “in the near future.” He said the company plans to keep the price of a single LULU unit in the “region” of $5,000.
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