UC Davis has partnered with PG&E to detect leaks in the company’s gas line.
The university has a research plane with the ability to detect spikes of methane in the air. The technology was tested in Texas. Pilot and UCD project scientist Dr. Steve Conley said it was successful, “Indeed we did see several of the leaks.”
PG&E hopes it can add the technology to their current detection methods. PG&E spokesperson Brittany McKannay said they use hand-held devices, walk every line of the gas line, and have helicopters with thermal imaging to look for leaks.
UCD’s plane is completely different. The plane flies low, about 500’ above the gas line. Conley said there are tubes under the wing of the plane which constantly sucks in air and feeds it to a greenhouse gas analyzer. Everything is measured in real time, so it shows instantly when a large amount of methane gas is detected.
The project is currently in the testing phase, but if it’s successful it’ll provide a lot of benefits to PG&E’s current testing methods.
“The traditional system that’s been operated for years is visual patrol pilots looking for signs of a leak,” explained Conley, “More recent systems are the helicopter LIDAR systems. The challenge with that is that it has to be very precise. If (the helicopter is) off by hundred feet they’re going to miss it.”
Conley said their method allows for a much greater margin for error and it’s a tenth of the cost of the helicopter systems.
The technology does have a drawback, the wind can make it hard to nail down exactly where the leak is but UCD is working on that.
Meanwhile, PG&E is glad for another possible detection tool. “Safety is our top priority,” said McKannay, “This is one of the many ways we’re looking into new technologies to bring into PG&E so we have cutting edge technologies.”
The testing phase of UCD’s plane is expected to go through July 2013.