Bat Signal Detects Pipeline Corrosion

Feb. 26, 2020
About the same time I received this cartoon from a friend on social media I came across a press release about technology based on bats that can detect corrosion issues in oil pipelines. Adding to that, I recently covered pipe corrosion dangers in Chemical Processing’s podcast Process Safety with Trish & Traci. Coincidence? Certainly. But I couldn’t help but cobble it all together for a blog post.

According to the press release, corrosion in oil pipelines is measured with ultrasonic or electromagnetic techniques. However, these are not practical for underground pipelines or for pipelines covered with insulating layers of concrete or plastic.

Enter the bat system. Developed by engineers from Lancaster University, the National Physical Laboratory and Hybrid Instruments Ltd., the technology exploits reflected signals known as backscatter. The system produces a pencil-like beam of probing radiation of neutrons and gamma, which is directed at the steel section being inspected.

“The combined beams of neutrons and gamma rays in parallel bouncing back to an array of detectors yield a comprehensive and fast representation of the inner structure of steel,” says Mauro Licata, researcher on the project from Lancaster University.

“This system works a bit like the chirps made by bats. These chirps are a superposition of different ultrasound wavelengths, which bounce back to the bats’ ears. As well as highlighting the benefits of combining multiple reflection sensing techniques to detect for problems such as corrosion, our work further illustrates the significant potential that can be had from taking inspiration from, and mimicking, systems that have evolved in the natural world.”

I would love nothing more than to learn when the system detects a compromise in the pipeline that Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” starts playing. The lyrics could be changed to “Check your pipeline….corrosion never seems too good.”

Equally pleasing would be a big bat signal flung up to the sky alerting reliability engineers of imminent danger.

Traci Purdum is Chemical Processing’s senior digital editor. She likes Neil Diamond, Batman and technology that mimics nature. 

About the Author

Traci Purdum | Editor-in-Chief

Traci Purdum, an award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering manufacturing and management issues, is a graduate of the Kent State University School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Kent, Ohio, and an alumnus of the Wharton Seminar for Business Journalists, Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.