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NETL Enters Pipeline Sensor Collaboration with Colonial Pipeline Company
Colonial pipeline collaborators

The collaboration will demonstrate optical fiber sensor systems developed at NETL on Colonial Pipeline Company’s fuel systems.

NETL and Alpharetta, Georgia-based Colonial Pipeline Company (the largest pipeline system for refined oil products in the U.S, ranging from Texas to New York) have signed a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA). As a result, field demonstrations of optical fiber sensor systems developed at NETL on Colonial’s fuel pipeline will continue — in the hopes of progressing technology that enhances the safety and security of pipeline operations through leak detection.

“The optical fiber sensor technologies are capable of distributed temperature and strain sensing, distributed acoustic sensing, and ultrasensitive acoustic sensing, which can be used to monitor and probe pipeline operation conditions and anomalies,” said Ruishu Wright, research scientist for NETL who has served as principal investigator in developing new fiber optic sensors.

“Real-time monitoring of these parameters can enable additional pipeline integrity monitoring, security monitoring, pressure monitoring, flow rate monitoring, etc. Successful demonstration on a real fuel pipeline at Colonial’s facilities will help to validate the sensor technologies and installation methods at a real scale. This effort aligns with NETL’s mission in sustaining reliable and sustainable energy while reducing environmental effects due to pipeline failures.”

Pipeline transport is safer, more efficient, and more cost effective than by ship, truck or train, but identifying more effective ways to detect potential leaks and other issues is an ongoing need. Through this partnership, Colonial is providing a real-time proving ground for innovation as it explores and evaluates the technology’s potential implementation.

“We are excited to partner with NETL on this opportunity to test additional potential approaches to ensuring the safe delivery of energy to communities,” said Afshean Talasaz, Colonial’s Chief Technology and Data Officer. “Innovative initiatives like this support Colonial’s commitment to safely and reliably serving America’s energy needs for generations to come.”

“This initiative demonstrates immense potential for interdisciplinary collaborations between national labs and our industry,” said Samuel Baxter, a Colonial senior scientist. “We’re proud to work alongside NETL scientists to advance the cutting edge in fiber optic sensors.”

NETL researchers have been developing better ways to ensure the safety of pipeline networks and mitigate leaks with the use of fiber optic sensor technologies and surface acoustic wave sensors. NETL’s pipeline sensors team tested new technologies in mid-February 2023 at the Southwest Research Institute test facility at a pilot-scale.

Wright said the CRADA with Colonial Pipeline Company is a critical step to develop and mature NETL sensors systems for industry adoption that has the potential to optimize the effectiveness of the nation’s pipeline systems.

Wright also acknowledges the support of NETL Agreement Team, Samantha Zhang, Leah Bower, and Chris Bond, whose professionalism and efficiency made it possible to meet the quick timeline of the CRADA with Colonial and keep the field test on schedule.

NETL is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory that drives innovation and delivers technological solutions for an environmentally sustainable and prosperous energy future. By its world-class talent and research facilities, NETL is ensuring affordable, abundant and reliable energy that drives a robust economy and national security, while developing technologies to manage carbon across the full life cycle, enabling environmental sustainability for all Americans.