UC engineering senior lecturer Dr Pedro Lee UC engineering senior lecturer Dr Pedro Lee CREDIT: University of Canterbury

Ground-breaking UC research testing pipes at three times the speed of sound

Friday 31 August 2012, 8:17AM
By University of Canterbury


A ground-breaking University of Canterbury research could soon be a life saver in testing damaged pipelines, around New Zealand and overseas, at three times the speed of sound.

UC engineering senior lecturer Dr Pedro Lee said the Canterbury earthquakes highlighted the importance of a secure water supply system and the need to rapidly assess its condition following a natural disaster.

``Our research involves the testing of new technology for assessment of our water supply network. We use pressure signals that travels at three times the speed of sound and can be used to rapidly identify areas of damage. The exciting idea is that potentially pipeline systems can be used to transfer data and information, in the same way as electrical cables.

``I have had 12 years of experience in the area of pipeline fault detection and our project has particular relevance for the Canterbury region as its success can improve our response to future earthquakes as well as improve the efficiency of our water infrastructure.''

He said most water supply pipeline systems in New Zealand cities were reaching the end of their design life and failures in these systems are common. A recent study had shown that on average 20 percent of the water in the NZ water supply system was lost through hidden leaks.

In addition to the environmental and financial costs associated with this water loss, leaks also creates significant health concerns as shown in the aftermath of the Canterbury earthquakes, serving as potential entry points for contaminants to intrude into the untreated water supply system of the city.

Over 24 percent of the outbreaks of waterborne diseases in the United States in the last decade were a direct result of hidden leaks within the water pipeline system. The presence of other hidden faults such as blockages and throttled valves has also increased the pumping costs for these systems over time.

Current commercial methods of fault detection in pipeline systems often require a water pipe system to be shut down and only small stretches of pipe can be tested at a time.

`` We are using compressive sound waves that race through pipelines at over 1000 metres a second and is an attractive method of fault detection and the topic of this project.

``This technique can be applied continuously while the water supply system is in full operation and has the ability to detect most types of faults within the system. Pipeline systems can be used to transfer data and information in the same way as electrical cables.

``We are looking at detecting leaks in pipelines using the fluids in the pipes themselves as the communication medium. This applies to oil, gas and water pipelines.''

Modern pipelines stretched over large distances and contained many connections, branches, valves and mechanical components. They also had unwanted defects such as leaks and material deposits. Finding such defects quickly and easily would potentially decrease service disruptions and save large amounts on service costs.

Dr Lee last year received a $345,000 Marsden Fund grant to develop this new exciting technology.