ABB Launches New Drone-Based Gas-Detection System

The company says its HoverGuard flies on commercial drones and is designed to detect and quantify greenhouse-gas emissions along transmission pipelines.

Credit: ABB.

ABB has revealed its latest gas-detection system, HoverGuard, which it said is designed to help monitor the 3 million miles of pipeline used in the US and aid compliance with a new law.

According to the US Energy Information Administration, the majority of gas shipments in the US take place using the nation’s pipeline infrastructure. On 27 December 2020, the Protecting Our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety Act was signed into law in the US. The act directs gas pipeline operators to use advanced leak-detection technologies to protect the environment and ensure pipeline safety.

HoverGuard is based on an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and detects, quantifies, and maps leaks up to 300 ft from natural gas distribution and transmission pipelines, gathering lines, storage facilities, and other potential sources. It generates comprehensive digital reports that summarize results and can be shared in minutes after a survey.

ABB says the cloud-connected system is the first of its kind to quantify methane, carbon dioxide, and water vapor continuously while flying. Each of those gases affects the environment differently and is present in the air in different amounts. Sourcing individual gases also provides important information to scientists and researchers when studying the complex environmental processes affecting climate and pollution.

The system uses cavity-enhanced laser absorption spectroscopy to detect methane. ABB says the sensitivity of the detection system and its speed allow HoverGuard to detect leaks while flying at altitudes of 130 ft or higher and at speeds greater than 55 mph. The company adds that the system can cover large areas quickly because it operates on low-cost commercial UAVs capable of carrying a payload of 6.6 lbm.

“HoverGuard represents an important step change in gas leak detection both in terms of safety and the environment,” said Doug Baer, ABB’s global product line manager of laser analyzers. “Previously, inspectors had to rely on slow, qualitative, analog sensors or expensive delicate cameras to find leaks. Our groundbreaking solution effectively probes otherwise inaccessible locations to increase safety across the pipeline network. It detects and maps natural gas leaks around hard-to-reach sites such as bridges, areas with right-of-way restrictions or vegetation coverage, and storage assets.”

HoverGuard is the third prong is ABB’s efforts to detect greenhouse gases. The company also offers ground-based and vehicle-based systems. A fourth system, which will be a stationary system, is expected to be launched later this year.