Neutrons detect clogs in pipelines
Industry and private consumers alike depend on oil and gas pipes that stretch thousands of kilometers underwater. However, it is not uncommon for pipelines to become clogged. With collaborators at the Research Neutron Source FRM II and the consulting company, Science S.A.V.E.D, scientists from TechnipFMC (a company specialising in subsea pipelines) demonstrated that neutrons are an ideal probe to locate blockages in underwater pipes.
For a clog to be remediated in-situ, the affected section of the pipeline must be found. However, locating clogs from the outside is challenging, particularly when underwater pipelines are laid at depths of up to 2000 metres. While thermal imaging cameras and gamma rays can be used to detect clogs, neither work underwater. Ultrasound, on the other hand, has no problem penetrating water but blockages can only be detected near the pipeline wall.
Using the Prompt Gamma Activation Analysis instrument at FRM II in Germany, the researchers established that neutrons can be used to differentiate between oil and gas and the blockage.
Additionally, neutron radiography and tomography, and fast neutron-induced gamma ray spectroscopy, showed that a sufficiently large number of neutrons can penetrate the metal walls of the pipelines to enable measurements underwater.
The experiments demonstrate that neutrons are ideal for locating plugs in a non-contact, non-destructive and reliable way, despite thick pipe walls. Moreover, the technique can distinguish an incipient blockage from a fully developed one, enabling preventative measures to be taken. In practice, a mobile detector with a small neutron source can move back and forth along the pipeline to look for plugs.
“We are very pleased that, with the help of the measurements at the research neutron source, we have now found an efficient method that makes it much easier to detect these plugs in the future."