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US DOE offers $38.5 million to develop pipeline rehabilitation technology

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The US Department of Energy (DOE) has announced up to $38.5 million (€35.6 million) in funding to develop technology to rehabilitation natural gas distribution pipelines.

The funding is for a new Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) programme, Rapid Encapsulation of Pipelines Avoiding Intensive Replacement (REPAIR), which will support new technologies to rehabilitate cast iron and bare steel natural gas distribution pipes by creating a new pipe inside the existing one.

“Natural gas is an important energy resource for millions of households and businesses across the nation,” said US Under Secretary of Energy Mark W. Menezes. “Developing technologies to keep our domestic natural gas pipeline infrastructure safe, secure, and state-of-the-art is crucial to maintain America’s energy leadership and independence.”

Across the US, utilities provide natural gas service to over 75 million residential as well as over 5 million commercial customers, through a network of 1.2 million miles of distribution mainlines and 900,000 miles of service lines.

Old cast iron and bare steel pipes, some of which data back to the early 1800s, account for around 3% of the almost 2 million miles of utility pipes in use in the US. However, these pipes account for a disproportionate number of leaks and failures, compared to more recently replaced infrastructure.

The REPAIR programme will develop smart coatings, robotic tools to line the inside of pipes, inspection tools to verify pipe integrity, as well as mapping tools to enable 3D renderings of pipes and adjacent underground infrastructure.

The successful technologies will meet the requirements of utilities and regulatory agencies, have a minimum life of 50 years, and have sufficient material properties to operate throughout its service life without reliance of the exterior pipe.

Under the programme, technologies will work towards a 10-20 times reduction in cost per miles, including gas service disruption costs. Current pipe excavation and replacement costs can range up to $10 million (€9.3 million) per mile.