Russian companies Pergam-Engineering and CROC have developed software for monitoring pipeline leaks of natural gas (methane) with a use of unmanned aerial vehicles. Previously, Pergam used helicopters, cars and other equipment for the purpose, which was significantly more costly: for instance, using a Mi-8 helicopter was about tenfold more expensive.
Using helicopter-mounted methane detector
A laser-based remote methane detector was manufactured by Pergam-Engineering back in 2005. Following the test flight, the model was purchased by the Gazprom Transgaz Yekaterinburg company. Since then, Pergam-Engineering has been selling methane detectors all over the globe, with its offices in the USA, Switzerland and Italy. The detector can cover the distance of 25,000 miles per year.
Methane is a colorless and odorless gas; its leaks are harmful for human health and dangerous: they can lead to explosions, fires and losses of crude materials. Last year, 50 children suffered poisoning in Volokolamsk, Moscow Region, as the result of a methane emission at a local waste depot; following this incident, the Moscow Region made an order for Pergam to perform flights to degasify all waste sites. In addition, methane is noted for producing the greenhouse effect, which is 20-fold stronger than the effect of carbon dioxide.
A methane detector allows to find and neutralize gas leaks in main pipelines, gas distributing stations, landfills, cottage areas where gas stoves are fueled by methane, on tankers, and in other locations. Gazprom has a special personnel unit to detect methane leaks.
How laser-type methane detector works
A helicopter-mounted device’s laser beam scans the air between the helicopter and the ground during the flight. In case the beam crosses methane, its spectrum changes; the device detects and analyzes the signal and displays the gas concentration parameters on a screen. The helicopter-mounted DLS-Pergam detector can measure natural gas concentration at the height between 30 and 200 meters.
Upon detecting the gas, the device automatically registers the leak’s GPS coordinates, time, wind direction and air-to-ground distance, detects the methane concentration, and takes a photo and, if necessary, records a video. All data is instantly shown on a laptop screen and can be analyzed using the DLS-Reporter special software and viewed as a Microsoft Word document right away.
Previously, gas industry workers used the Aeropoisk (Aerosearch) device, which could not work at the height of 100 meters and automatically detect gas leak coordinates. The DLS-Pergam device registers the location where a methane emission occurs, but the exact leak point is detected by a specialist who uses a special device as methane shifts in the airflow.
In 2017, Pergam created a smaller model of its methane detector and mounted it on a drone, which allows for a considerable economizing of expenses. An hour of Mi-8 flight with a detector costs about RUR 120,000 ($1,906), while a flying hour of a DJI M 600 drone costs RUR 12,500. In 2018, five Gazprom affiliated companies conducted tests of the methane detector on unmanned aerial vehicles, and this year, commercial use was launched, according to head of Pergam-Engineering’s department for development and production Semyon Neverov. In his presentation, Neverov also showed a letter signed by Vyacheslav Mikhalenko, a department director at Gazprom, who recommends commercial use of drone-mounted methane detectors.
Pergam-Engineering has two competitors, US-based companies ABB and ULC, which manufacture drone-mounted gas leak detection systems as well.
LMC G2 DL, a methane detector developed by Pergam for second generation drones, monitors infrastructure sites, such as gas distribution stations, with a speed of up to 100 sq meters per five minutes. The device can survey 4-5 gas distribution stations located 5-10 kilometers from each other per day. LMC G2 DL operates at the maximum height of 100 m (the optimal height is 30 m) with a speed of 100 km per hour. The device is launched over ten minutes and can operate at the temperatures between -10°C and +40°C – that is, it cannot work in freezing temperatures. LMC G2 DL weighs 1.7 kg and is powered by drone batteries. The system’s key feature is its ability to transfer data on detected leaks to a pilot’s control panel in the online mode, with the DJI protocol transmission used. Data can be transferred at the distance of up to 5 km.
Previously, Pergam had the LMC methane drone detector that recorded data onboard but was unable to transmit it to the ground online and display it on the operator’s control panel. The hardware and software complex developed by CROC includes the option of transmitting data to the ground.
“Customers used to say it was inconvenient to receive data upon landing; they wanted to receive it instantly to be aware of what was happening”, Neverov says.
The new feature will allow to respond to the leak by taking measures to precisely locate and eliminate it, as well as to change the flight assignment and perform another approach to confirm the leak.
Together with the Latvian company SPH Engineering, CROC has developed software for the LMC G2 DL that creates the flight assignment and flying path, surveys the situation at the facility in the online mode, and receives and processes methane detector data. The software also provides an opportunity to enter data in a library: this allows users to choose an assignment from the library instead of having to make it again every time.
By Natalia Kuznetsova