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Drones gain popularity in detecting pipeline leaks

Don Horne   


Pipelines often cross inaccessible terrain to supply industrial and domestic gas, and an accurate detection of odourless and invisible gas leaks can be challenging and expensive.

ABB’s latest addition to its ABB Ability Mobile Gas Leak Detection System, HoverGuard, offers one solution by finding leaks faster and more reliably than ever before.

HoverGuard detects, quantifies and maps leaks up to 100 meters from natural gas distribution and transmission pipelines, gathering lines, storage facilities, and other potential sources quickly, safely and reliably. It automatically generates comprehensive digital reports that summarize results and can be shared in minutes after a survey.

“HoverGuard represents an important step-change in gas leak detection and for the environment.” said Doug Baer, Ph.D., ABB global product line manager of Laser Analyzers. “Previously inspectors had to rely on slow, qualitative, analog sensors or expensive delicate cameras to find leaks. Our groundbreaking solution effectively probes locations otherwise inaccessible by either walking or driving. It will increase safety across the pipeline network whether in remote or urban environments, by detecting and mapping natural gas leaks around hard-to-reach sites such as bridges, areas with right-of-way restrictions or vegetation coverage, gas storage assets and pipelines.”


The cloud-connected, multi-gas solution is the first Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)-based system to quantify the three most important greenhouse gases methane, carbon dioxide and water vapour continuously while flying. Each greenhouse gas affects the environment differently and is present in the air in different amounts. The extremely fast response and high precision of the analyzer allows scientists and researchers to reliably quantify greenhouse gas fluxes which provides important information when studying the complex environmental processes affecting climate and pollution.

Cavity enhanced laser absorption spectroscopy detects methane with a sensitivity more than 1,000 times higher and over 10 times faster than conventional leak detection tools. This sensitivity and speed allows HoverGuard to detect leaks while flying at altitudes of 40 meters, or higher, and at speeds greater than 88 km/h. It can cover 10-15 times more land area per minute by operating on low-cost commercial UAV capable of carrying a payload of 3 kg.

HoverGuard complements ABB’s existing gas leak detection offering with the vehicle-based MobileGuard, hand-held MicroGuard and stationary EverGuard (to be launched later in 2021). They are all designed to operate independently.


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