UK gas distribution networks launch call for innovations

posted 24 Sep 2014

UK gas distribution networks launch call for innovations

The Energy Innovation Centre (EIC) is actively calling for innovations that respond to operational challenges identified by two of the UK’s gas distribution networks (GDNs).

The first call seeks alternative void filling materials that can be used to plug gaps that develop between underground gas pipes and their protective outer sleeves.

The second relates to a need for alternative methods of drilling holes in hard surfaces such as roads or pavements.

The two companies are among four gas distribution networks that collaborate with the Energy Innovation Centre in order to seek out opportunities that have the potential to transform their operations, improve health and safety, and benefit energy customers.

In the UK, metallic gas pipes frequently run under important assets such as roads, lines or buildings. Pipes in these locations are protected and strengthened by a secondary outer layer (or sleeve) and an air gap separates the two pipes. Air gap voids can weaken the integrity of the sleeves, leaving the inner pipeline vulnerable in the event of any third party damage or ingress of water.

Maintaining these sleeves is difficult but replacing them is expensive and often impractical, and so filling air gaps with grout is the preferred solution in most cases. In one network region alone (which represents approximately twelve per cent of the UK gas network) there are currently around 560 ‘air gap’ sleeves that are scheduled for grouting.

However, the grouting process involves the use of heavy machinery and deep excavations which are environmentally unfriendly, disruptive to gas customers and presents a danger to both gas network employees and the general public.

The GDN behind the call is seeking superior alternatives to standard grouting materials and techniques which it will evaluate against a number of criteria, including duration of overall operation, public disruption, cost and operational and environmental performance.

The second call seeks suppliers of equipment, technology or innovations who can improve upon drilling techniques that are currently used to investigate the location of leaks in its network.

The process for locating a gas leak involves drilling holes along a stretch of road or pavement to insert gas sensors. The holes are currently made using hand power drills which have high levels of vibration and can jam easily on impact with different material types in the layered build-up of road materials.

In this case, the GDN is looking for novel products, existing techniques used in other industries or new methods that can perform the same task as the hand drills in a more controlled manner.

Mark Thompson, project delivery manager at the Energy Innovation Centre, said, “These two calls help to demonstrate the level of commitment that our industry partners have to driving innovation forward in the gas industry for the benefit of their customers, their employees and their local communities.

“The EIC would like to encourage any innovators out there who have potential solutions to these challenges to talk to us before the deadline. There is funding available to support suitable innovations through the design, development or trial stages and we can help you to access this.”

 In both cases the deadline for expressions of interest is Friday  October 24th. For more information on each opportunity, please contact Ian Coates, or 0151 348 8047 


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