It's not just a pipe dream
A state-of-the-art pipeline structural health monitoring "living laboratory" could soon be a reality on campus.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — For the past three years, Barbara Shaw, professor of engineering science and mechanics (ESM), and several groups of undergraduate and graduate students from her corrosion classes have been monitoring the corrosion of an underground gas pipeline outside the Earth and Engineering Sciences Building.
What they found wasn’t good—but something good would come out of it.
The student groups determined that the pipeline’s cathodic protection system had degraded to the point where it no longer offered the required level of corrosion protection. After alerting Penn State’s Office of Physical Plant (OPP), OPP hired a commercial contractor, and accompanied by the students, conducted an official inspection which corroborated the initial testing results by Shaw’s groups.
What Shaw saw in this collaboration between industry and academia was a huge opportunity.
“It was a valuable, real-world learning experience for the students to observe the contractor conducting a certified inspection that validated their monitoring efforts. It was also a great opportunity for them to actively participate,” said Shaw. “It made me realize we have an opportunity to do something that’s never been done at an academic institution—establish a state-of-the-art pipeline “living laboratory” for research, education, workforce development, and STEM outreach.”
The vision for a living lab at Penn State is to establish the University as a worldwide leader in pipeline structural health monitoring by introducing project-based learning that will link research and education with operational experience and streamline the technology transition from the laboratory to the field.
The installation of a test bed facility would incorporate an operational gas pipeline, as well as additional buried pipes with the unique ability to seed defects on them and alter the corrosivity of the environment. The test bed would enable the collection of unprecedented data which would be extremely valuable for both research into new and improved methods for identifying pipeline degradation and improvements in protection methods. It would also serve as a valuable training resource to students at all levels.
With an estimated asset replacement cost of $1.1 million per mile of pipeline*, the need for maintaining pipeline infrastructure integrity is increasing exponentially. And the demand for qualified pipeline monitoring personnel at the federal level and within the private sector continues to grow. Through collaboration with the National Association of Corrosion Engineers, the lab would also provide a unique training facility for utility pipeline engineers and inspectors to obtain corrosion certification.
The ESM department will also explore a partnership with the ASM Materials Education Foundation to provide materials camps for teachers to provide tools and training for inspiring high school students’ interest in science, technology, engineering, and math.
*Acccording to a recent Det Norske Veritas report on the state of pipeline infrastructure.