DAS Technology and the Low Carbon Energy Revolution

In November 2020, the UK government launched its 10 point plan for a green industrial revolution. Set against the backdrop of COP 26, which resulted in the Glasgow Climate Pact,  the plan is ambitious indeed. It aims to make the UK a global leader in green technologies – a vision that Fotech shares, with our own DAS cable and pipeline monitoring technology increasingly developing to meet the needs of the renewable energy sector. A key component of the government’s 10-point plan is investment in low carbon energy and – crucially – carbon capture, usage, and storage (CCUS). This is an important strategy in the battle against climate change. Indeed, scientists predict that, globally, we will need to remove up to 10 gigatons of CO2 from the atmosphere annually to stay below 1.5 degrees of global warming.

This considerable undertaking requires new technologies, new infrastructure, and intensive cross-industry cooperation. A shining example of that is happening right now, in the form of the Net Teesside Power Project, supported by Northern Endurance Partnership’s carbon compression infrastructure. Spearheaded by bp, in partnership with Eni, Equinor, Shell and Total, the project aims to capture up to 6 million metric tonnes (Mt) of CO2 emissions eery year. That’s the equivalent of two million homes’ annual energy usage. There is no doubt, this is a megaproject to get excited about! And it highlights two areas where Fotech believes DAS pipeline sensing and monitoring will become a vital part of the energy revolution mix.

What is Carbon Capture Usage and Storage - and How Can DAS Pipeline Monitoring Help?

CCUS is an encompassing term for a dual approach to reducing CO2 emissions – capturing CO2, and then either using it for other purposes or permanently storing it in a secure site. Permanent storage depends on the safe and reliable transport of the excess CO2 – which is where pipelines become crucial and DAS pipeline monitoring technology comes into play.

There are multiple forms of CO2 capture technology, grouping into three main headings: pre-combustion, post-combustion, and oxy-fuel combustion. As the International Energy Agency points out, carbon capture technologies have actually been in existence for some decades now – and currently we have the ability to capture roughly 40 Mt of CO2 annually around the world. But the climate change crisis has fuelled the sector with new urgency – hence we see flagship projects such as Net Teesside Zero coming into play.

Of course, once excess carbon has been captured, some of it can be re-used across a wide range of industries and services – from manufacturing to food production and agriculture. This is carbon capture utilisation – or CCU. The rest needs to be transported to suitable permanent storage locations – typically onshore and offshore underground geological formations. This is carbon capture storage – or CCS.

As the UN Climate Technology Centre & Network notes, though, to transport CO2 efficiently, it should be compressed to a pressure of over 7.4 MPa, and raised to a temperature of more than 31°C. CO2 in this state adopts supercritical properties – it becomes a liquid with gas characteristics. It is therefore most efficiently transported via carbon steel pipelines – of the kind that will transport captured carbon from the Net Teesside Power project.

Whilst CO2 is not flammable, a CO2 pipeline leak still risks significant harm – to our air, water, soil and, indeed, populations. So, CO2 pipeline operators need to be confident that the pipeline is constantly monitored and that any leak or breach can be detected and remedied – fast.

Properly configured and supported DAS pipeline sensing is an effective way of achieving this. By constantly monitoring the acoustic signatures of fibre optic cables (which are typically co-located alongside both existing and new pipelines), DAS photonics can detect even the smallest disturbance along the length of the line and, with the right supporting technology, can report the location, nature, and urgency of the disturbance within minutes and metres, minimising the risk of a CO2 pipeline breach and facilitating quick repair if a breach does occur.

How Can Distributed Acoustic Sensing Prevent a CO2 Pipeline Leak?

In a previous Fotech blog on monitoring water pipelines, we discussed the ageing infrastructure of many of the world’s pipelines, and the challenges this presents to operators. As new infrastructure is designed and built (because the world’s pipeline infrastructure is growing all the time), there is an opportunity to future-proof new pipelines for the twenty first century and beyond. Nonetheless, breaches can and do occur (whether accidental or malicious). Given the volumes of captured carbon that need to be transported, it is essential that potential leaks are caught quickly and addressed immediately to avoid disaster.

So, how does DAS pipeline monitoring achieve this? In short, the DAS interrogator sends thousands of pulses of light every second along the fibre optic cable that runs alongside the pipeline. Some of that light is reflected back to the monitoring unit – a process known as Rayleigh Backscatter. Any disturbance along the pipeline (for example, heavy machinery interference) causes interference in the light patterns. Intelligent algorithms interpret these vast quantities of data and – in the case of Fotech’s modular Helios DAS® monitoring solutions – send the result to a Panoptes Server, which defines not just the nature and location, but also the urgency of the threat. The server alerts the operator immediately, so that they can intervene and deal with any breach before critical amounts of CO2 are leaked.

Taking Net Zero Teesside as an example, DAS CO2 pipeline monitoring promises a double advantage. It has the capacity to support carbon capture storage by constantly monitoring CO2 transportation pipelines to ensure that the CO2 reaches its permanent storage destination safely. But, as well as CCS to de-carbonize local industry, Net Zero Teesside will also build a combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) to provide around 1.3 million local homes with low carbon energy – a complement to other renewable energy sources. Again, this energy needs to be transported and delivered into those homes. One of the advantages of DAS fibre optic acoustic sensing is that, because the fibre optic cable becomes the sensor, it can be deployed to monitor not just a single asset – but multiple assets, from onshore electricity cables to offshore wind cable monitoring. So, DAS has the potential to become not just an important strategy in safe, efficient carbon capture, usage and storage, but across the entire renewable energy mix.

Find out more:

Explore DAS monitoring solutions for the pipeline, security, and cable infrastructure sectors.

Find out about other ways in which DAS Photonics can help reduce our carbon footprint.

If you would like to discuss our DAS asset monitoring technology, contact Fotech in your region.

 

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