Thanks to advances in wireless gas detection technology, process engineering facilities are now better equipped to protect their most valuable assets. Robert Smith reports.
The gas detection market is experiencing somewhat of a boom at the moment, with the need for continuous and real-time monitoring and detection of emissions driving demand for technology.
This is evident throughout a number of sectors, including within process plants and industrial facilities, and on a global scale. In 2017, market researcher Transparency predicted the global gas detection market would expand from an estimated worth of $1.13 billion to $1.77 billion by 2022.
Wireless gas detection is at the heart this growth, the report shows, with the advent of flexible and scalable wireless gas detection system offering “a through multi-point monitoring of toxic gases across a facility or plant”.
“This is bolstering the demand for wireless gas detection system,” the report says.
Wireless gas detection products range from gas imaging devices, ultrasonic leak detectors for high-pressure gas releases, through to handheld personal protection products and clip-on devices aimed at alerting engineers to the presence of hazardous emissions.
Paul Tillyer, flame and gas product manager at Emerson, Europe, believes wireless gas detection is helping to accelerate the deployment of gas detectors to areas that were previously too difficult or costly to monitor.
He says wireless detectors that utilise existing ‘proven-in-use’ wireless protocols, such as WirelessHART, in addition to next generation products, are accelerating the transition to industrial Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) solutions, which include remote configuration of devices and smart device applications for the personal and early warning of facility events.
“Next-generation technologies are making it easier than ever to deploy robust gas detection systems to protect personnel and property. Wireless detectors, the ability to remotely configure detectors, extended life sensors and advanced diagnostics are all advances that reduce the total lifecycle cost of detectors.”
Tillyer says that in the near term, advanced optical techniques will also continue to push the envelope of what gas detectors can do, adding that in the future various types of safety detectors will be a central part of the smart facility – “where devices and infrastructure seamlessly communicate to provide new levels of safety”.
But what of more traditional technologies? While the engineering industry creeps toward more advanced processes – thanks largely to the adoption of IIoT connected devices – wired gas detection systems will still have some part to play, if only in the near future.
Next-generation technologies are making it easier than ever to deploy robust gas detection systems to protect personnel and property
Paul Tillyer, flame and gas product manager, Emerson
Fixed systems, which are designed to protect personnel, plant and provide early warnings when hazards arise, are versatile pieces of kit installed throughout the process industry. “Wired detectors will be utilised in the foreseeable future in the majority of existing applications because the wired infrastructure is already in place,” Tillyer explains.
However, as the cost of some elements of major engineering projects reduces, wired technology will increasingly be cast aside. Tillyer says he expects to see wireless adoption to continue at a high growth rate as this type of kit is retrospectively applied to safety critical applications that require quick, cost-effective safe solutions.
“Greenfield facilities and large brownfield projects will likely be the main adopters of wireless due to reduced installation costs and reduced schedule risk for large projects.”
Gas network operator Wales and West Utilities (WWU) has a regulated gas distribution business that includes approximately 35,000 kilometres of gas pipes throughout Wales and the south west of England.
According to WWU, its network covers around one sixth of the UK, incorporating 2.5 million gas supply points in homes and businesses in a catchment area with a population of more than seven million people.
Since launching in 2005, WWU has used three types of “traditional” detection equipment; all of which involve pumping a sample from the potential leak source across a sensor – or series of sensors – commonly using catalytic or flame ionisation (FIM/FID) technology to detect flammable gases.
WWU operatives predominantly use these portable devices to scan an area for escaping gas by using a hand-held probe attached to the device.
However, the methods employed by WWU had limitations, resulting in operatives being unable to visually observe leaks – meaning they could not survey from a safe distance.
This technology allows us to quickly and effectively check for leakage as part of our regular inspections. This check for safety ensures that we know there are no leaks in our asset, in areas that are hard, or impossible to reach
Steve Harding, senior distribution systems asset manager, WWU
To combat this, WWU conducted a trial to observe different technologies in action and understand how they could support existing methods. As part of the trial, WWU also sought to understand the respective capabilities of each piece of kit and whether these products could improve efficiencies in surveying – including saving time and increasing safety.
The three technologies used in the trial were: an optical gas imaging (OGI) camera; laser technology to detect methane concentration from a distance; and infrared technology to detect leaks and potentially reduce bar holing.
Flammable and toxic gas detection equipment provider Crowcon Detection Instruments provided support during the trial, in which seven scenarios were created to help detect leakage and monitor quality. This helped WWU identify the individual capabilities of each product and how the utility company could achieve increased time-saving and safety.
The scenarios included leakage surveys, multi-occupancy buildings, and surveys of gas storage facilities, among others.
Crowcon marketing director Louise Early said: “We are extremely happy to support innovation trials lead by Wales and West Utilities. This allows us to learn about the way in which gas leak detectors are used today as well as delivering insight into the needs of the future.”
Following the trial process, Crowcon’s LaserMethane mini (LMm) portable detector was found to provide the best overall fit for WWU’s requirements.
LMm is a compact handheld detector designed to specialise in the detection of methane gas at a safe distance (from 0 metres to 100 metres).
Utilising laser technology, methane leaks are located by pointing the laser beam towards the suspected leak, or along the survey line. The technology aims to remove the need to access elevated places, potentially reducing costs and improving the speed of leak detection activities.
WWU innovation manager Lucy Mason said: “The laser methane mini is a great innovative technology for our toolbox. During the project, Crowcon attended the pre-trial workshop as well as spending time out in the field with our teams to both offer training and gather insight into the potential usage scenarios. This level of support is invaluable when looking at new technologies.”
The utility’s senior distribution systems asset manager, Steve Harding, added: “This technology allows us to quickly and effectively check for leakage as part of our regular inspections. This check for safety ensures that we know there are no leaks in our asset, in areas that are hard, or impossible to reach.”