Office of Fossil Energy

DOE Launches Natural Gas Infrastructure R&D Program Enhancing Pipeline and Distribution System Operational Efficiency, Reducing Methane Emissions

September 8, 2014

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Following the White House and the Department of Energy Capstone Methane Stakeholder Roundtable on July 29th, DOE announced a series of actions, partnerships, and stakeholder commitments to help modernize the nation’s natural gas transmission and distribution systems and reduce methane emissions. Through common-sense standards, smart investments, and innovative research, DOE seeks to advance the state of the art in natural gas system performance.  DOE’s effort is part of the larger Administration’s Climate Action Plan Interagency Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions.

The Natural Gas Infrastructure R&D Program initiative is one of four initiatives announced by Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz.  Accordingly, the Office of Fossil Energy (FE) through the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) plans to launch an FY15 Natural Gas Infrastructure R&D program with the goal to enhance the deliverability efficiency of natural gas and to mitigate methane emissions from mid-stream infrastructure.  The objectives are to implement a Natural Gas Infrastructure R&D program that:

  • Complements and is well-coordinated with existing R&D programs and efforts managed by other entities, both within and outside of the Federal government.
  • Targets R&D objectives that are based on identified research needs and seeks to enhance pipeline deliverability and operational efficiency.
  • Supports the Department’s priorities to address near term opportunities to reduce climate change.

Based on initial outreach with key industry stakeholders and other government agencies, four potential R&D need areas have been identified;

External Leak Detection and Flow Rate Quantification Technologies/Methodologies – There is a continuing need for external (as opposed to internal pipeline inspection) natural gas leak detection and flux quantification technologies that can both reliably detect methane leaks and accurately estimate the rate at which methane is flowing from the leak, for gathering, transmission, and local distribution systems.

Pipeline Inspection and Repair – There is a need for lower cost, effective technologies for inspecting pipelines internally and externally.  In particular, technologies that can identify and discriminate among different types of internal and external pipe anomalies, navigate through a variety of pipeline sizes and configurations, and evaluate external pipeline conditions quickly from a distance and without the need for major excavation.  In addition, there is a need for cost effective and safe technologies and or methodologies that can permit pipelines to be inspected and repaired without having to evacuate (vent) gas from the pipe; a significant source of methane emissions.

Smart Sensors for Pipeline Operational Efficiency – There is a need for development and deployment of “smart” real-time sensors within natural gas pipelines that can cost-effectively communicate a variety of operational parameters (e.g., pressure and flow rate), provide a continual leak detection capability, and support the quick isolation and shut down of discrete sections of pipeline in cases where ruptures have occurred.

Improving Compressor System Operational Performance – There is a need for improved natural gas compression systems and/or controls to reduce methane emissions, increase operational efficiency which would provide better response to quickly changing gas demand profiles

As part of this effort, FE/NETL will participate with the DOE Office of Advanced Manufacturing to lead a workshop to refine research needs with industry and other stakeholders.  The workshop is planned for November 12-13, 2014 in Pittsburgh.   To get more information and receive emails about this workshop, please contact Eric Smistad