Scientists are developing ‘live’ sensors utilizing electrogenic bacteria, which help identify leakages in gas pipelines in real time as well as hypothetically avoid environmental disasters and improve distribution disturbances. Last year, the Colonial Pipeline that carries fuel to New York from Texas had ruptured, dumping a quarter million gallons of gas in rural Alabama.
During inspection of gas pipeline, strong vapors from released gasoline prevented repairing of pipelines for number of days. Veera Gnaneswar Gude, from Mississippi State University in the US stated that the sensor which they have developed can identify very small leakages and operator can take immediate steps to repair it. Owing to fast responce by the system, one need not wait for long time. Further, if the same technique is manufactured on a large scale then it would able to treat waste and to remediate the soil and water that has been contaminated.
Currently pipelines are inspected by the use of a device named smart pig, an electronic device that travel through the pipe detecting welding defects or cracks. Despite regular inspections, leaks still occur. Researchers are designing a sensor that would complement this procedure by delivering additional information related to integrity of pipes. These sensors are named ‘live’ sensors. Live sensors sticks to the outside of the pipes and gains advantages of metabolic procedure of electrogenic bacteria to identify gas leakages in real time.
In the previous research, Gude studied application of microorganisms in wastewater treatment, and he has recently focused on developing sensors by the use of similar species. Currently, he is testing bacteria, which will produce an adequate assessable cathode voltage while further being able to live in a marine atmosphere for the application of offshore oil spill detection. The bacteria have to be healthy enough through a range of pressure, pH conditions and alkalinity.
A type of bacteria he is testing is referred as ‘electrogenic’ which states that the bacteria releases electrons to its environment via metabolic procedure. Gude produced an organic sensors comprised of electrogenic anode consists of bacteria that guzzle carbon-based material and exile electrons. These electrons then move across resister to cathode. Various set of bacteria that are ravenous for electrons, inhibit at cathode to encourage flow of electrons.
Growth in the metabolic procedure of anode bacteria is likely to correspond to voltage rise in the sensor that could alert technician to a potential leak. The sensor is very easy to implement. Placing a sensor onto a pipe is not a big challenge. It is very versatile technology. Currently Gude is searching for a medium in which to stop the bacteria. Mr. Gude is testing bio-based films and high-porosity plastics that optimize the surface area covered by electrogenic bacteria. Once rough bacteria are identified and stopped, they can be utilized as leak detector in a range of drilling applications and oil transport, including fracking. Further, it is possible in near future that such type of sensors could be sprayed across the exteriors of the entire pipeline as coating to insure entire length is continuously monitored.