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The University of Southampton

Research project: RAINDROP: tRansforming Acoustic SensINg for leak detection in trunk mains and water DistRibutiOn Pipelines

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The research proposed here will clearly benefit those working in the field of leak detection and pipe condition monitoring as well as pipe vibration more generally, such as in the chemical engineering/process industries. The approaches, combining mechanistic models of structures embedded in a surrounding medium with comprehensive measurements, could also impact those working in both railway noise and vibration and geophysical engineering (particularly the interaction between seismic events and buildings). 

Start date: 10 December 2021 (36 months)

RAINDROP project aims to develop a suite of three innovative acoustic sensing technologies for detecting water leaks in trunk and distribution mains that is able to provide significantly improved detection relative to current capabilities and enable the step change necessary to meet the challenges facing the water industry. Although primarily aimed at the water industry, aligning with the UK Water Industry Research (UKWIR) initiative 'Zero Leakage 2050', the work is also relevant to the gas and oil sectors. Leakage from pipes is a major issue in all three sectors, wasting natural resources, resulting in negative environmental and economic impacts, and causing serious safety risks. In the water industry, acoustic methods are the dominant methods for detecting leaks. However, successful application of existing methods requires regular access to the pipes, e.g. via a hydrant, which fundamentally limits the application of these methods. These problems are particularly acute in water trunk mains, in plastic pipes and in long distance oil and gas pipelines. 

The technologies we shall develop are:

(i) Monitoring acoustic pressure along an entire pipeline using distributed acoustic sensing (DAS) using circumferential on pipe optical fibres

(ii) Coupling the vibration of the pipe wall at discrete locations to the ground surface using fine metal rods, the top of which can be monitored using conventional sensors (e.g. accelerometers or geophones)

(iii) A portable 'geo- camera' to detect and pinpoint leaks from the ground surface. 

Receiving widespread endorsement from both UK Water Industry Research and their members, along with the UK Water Leakage Network, they open up possibilities for both distributed acoustic monitoring of pipelines for leak prevention, as well as the remote detection of leaks. 

The research will comprise theoretical modelling, with a focus on physics-based mechanistic approaches; experimental measurements, in the laboratory, at outdoor test sites and on the live water network; and signal processing.

There is also potential relevance to the modelling of biological systems (e.g. blood flow in the human body or nutrients in plants). The signal processing methods could translate to source identification/localization problems such as aerodynamic and jet noise, underwater acoustic mapping, and traffic and people monitoring. Within the ISVR there are experts in all these fields, providing a ready route for the cross-fertilisation of ideas. More widely, we shall seek to generate collaborative interactions with colleagues in a variety of sectors, including acoustics, civil engineers and electrical engineering (especially signal processing and machine learning communities). We shall exploit existing research networks, such as the UK Acoustics Network (UKAN), to promote and develop this research challenge. We shall also look to explore connections with the GCRF-funded Breccia programme, led by the University of Southampton, which aims to build research capacity for sustainable water (and food) security in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Related research groups

Dynamics Group
Acoustics Group
Signal Processing, Audio and Hearing Group
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