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ULC Robotics to Develop Leak Detection & Repair Robot to Prevent Methane Emissions

ULC Robotics has been awarded a contract by the Department of Energy (DOE) to develop a prototype robotic system for inline leak detection and repair of live transmission and distribution natural gas mains. This Phase II award was conferred after ULC successfully completed a 10-month Phase I project to study inline leak detection, develop internal repair methods, and assess the feasibility of the robotic system.

“We are working to create a solution to quickly limit the methane emissions from leaks in natural gas pipelines and make pipelines safer,” says Aalap Shah, R&D Project Manager at ULC Robotics. “The robot will operate in pipelines that are not always readily accessible, such as pipeline below roadways or railways. By instituting temporary repairs pipeline operators will be able to maintain service and avoid loss of supply during critical periods.”

Traditionally, crews must be dispatched to perform bar-holing to pinpoint the location of a leak—a lengthy and labor-intensive process during which excessive methane may be released into the atmosphere. Conventional methods also require extensive excavation, which is costly, disrupts gas service to customers, and can cause traffic or public transit delays.

Using cutting-edge component technologies and the latest robotic design concepts, the robot will detect, locate, and classify leaks. Once identified, the robot will instantly deploy a rapid repair method to seal damaged areas and enable the pipeline to continue operating temporarily for up to two years, until permanent repairs can be made.

Because the robot will be able to perform repairs immediately and does not require traditional excavation, pipeline operators will see a significant reduction in O&M costs, as well as the amount of methane emissions being released into the environment.

After completing the project, ULC will focus on prototype improvements, pilot testing, and deployment within live transmission and distribution mains.

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