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By Gregory Hale
Drones can provide such great advantages to get information quickly, but when you add the ability to test for potential gas leaks, it just brings the safety potential up a few notches.

That is just what happened at the ABB Customer World 2019 event in Houston earlier this month, when the automation giant showed off its UAV-based Pipeline Leak Detection system.

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“It is much more sensitive by orders of magnitude,” said Douglas Baer, president and global product line manager for laser analyzers at ABB – Los Gatos Research. “We are now getting an actual number in parts per billion.”

The ABB Ability mobile gas-leak detection system is a patented 4th generation cavity enhanced technique that has an optical cavity that provides long effective path length (1 – 10 km), increased dynamic range of 10,000:1, robust – insensitive to vibration, temperature and pressure and has all the advantages of TDLAS with increased sensitivity.

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The mobile gas-leak detection system can now end up placed on a drone and flown over areas that have suspected gas leaks. The device can then send in real time data to operators about gas levels at parts-per-billion granularity.

In terms of a safety tool, the UAV can help prevent an explosion, loss of life and property, a PR nightmare for a company, fines and penalties, and even Criminal prosecution.

Right now ABB has been conducting vehicle mounted leak detection and they have found it allows for a rapid survey of assets.

Now they are moving to an aerial approach because current methods show existing UAV leak detection is insensitive, and is sensitive to background and ambient light.

With the conventional leak detection systems, a walking survey is very slow and the tools have low sensitivity and it relies on surveyor training for good results.

“The UAV is good for any place you can’t drive or walk to,” Baer said. “It can fly over a pipeline, ocean, a bay. “The primary limitation is the wind.”

Baer said with the sensitive new analyzer, a drone could detect a leak 40-50 meters in the sky. In addition, he said with the technology, a vehicle can detect a leak from 100 meters.

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