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Recent projects

Find out below about some of the innovative projects we have recently been working on.

Reducing revs for a cleaner environment

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As part of everyday operations, our engineers need to use their vehicles for on-board power during emergency and repair works.

While necessary, it’s not an environmentally-friendly solution, so we’ve been trialling a device called iStop which drops the engine’s revs when power hasn’t been used for a certain length of time. The revs then return when required.

We’ve trialled iStop on three Ford Transits – and calculations show it will save around 61 litres of fuel, per vehicle, per year.

We now plan to install iStop in 20 new vehicles, helping to minimise the environmental impact of our fleet.

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Wallpapering pipes

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We transport our gas through 1,200km of high pressure pipeline, before the pressure is regulated for use by customers. Repairs on these thick metal pipes are time consuming and expensive.

We’re working with several other gas distributors on a joint project to trial the use of a composite material made from carbon fibre sheets impregnated with resin. These are wrapped around the damaged section of pipe – a bit like wallpaper – but with a hard, durable finish.

Left to cure, it creates a strong, lasting solution. We’re continuing to test the method on different pipe shapes.

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Sniffing out leaks

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Midge and Millie are ex-police sniffer dogs who have been trained to locate gas leaks.

The dogs’ acute sense of smell helps us reduce the number of exploratory holes we need to dig – reducing environmental waste and pinpointing leaks more quickly.

We have deployed the pair more than 40 times, including at a major supply loss incident in Leeds in September 2017, which affected 550 homes. Their super sensitive noses helped us to get customers back on gas two days ahead of schedule, avoiding an estimated £85,000 of costs.

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Sending robots down pipes

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We are trialling the use of a robot that can travel down our pipes to spot and fix faults.

The robot is able to transmit live footage back to the surface and apply ‘flexspray’ to seal damaged internal pipe joints.

As well as improving our asset management techniques, sending the robot inside our pipes is reducing the time it takes us to complete our jobs, from an average of three weeks down to just one, meaning we’re digging fewer holes, creating less spoil and reducing costs. It’s also improving safety by minimising the need to dig.

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Syphoning off water

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When water gets into the gas network it can cause low pressure or loss of supply for customers.

We’ve developed a small syphon, fitted with a remote monitoring system, which collects water in pipes, and lets us know when it is full.

Since installing the syphon at one site, there have been no reports of water ingress problems or loss of gas supply for customers.

We’re in the process of rolling out this technology across the network and sharing the knowledge from field trials with other gas distribution networks.

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Paw Patrol

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Dogs’ exceptional sense of smell has been used successfully in sectors ranging from crime prevention to petrochemicals, but never before in the gas industry.

We’ve launched a project to see if dogs can be trained to locate gas leaks, helping to speed up repairs and reduce the need for our engineers to dig exploratory holes in the road.

So far, we’ve carried out a series of controlled trials to see if a trained sniffer dog can detect items scented with gas. This ‘double blind’ test was very successful, despite challenging weather conditions, giving us confidence that the concept is sound.

We are now preparing for a second phase trial. This will involve laying gas pipes at varying depths, to see how the dog performs compared to a human engineer armed with the latest technology.

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Stepping on the gas

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Natural gas can be used to power vehicles, providing a cleaner, greener fuel alternative to petrol and diesel.

We’re trialling two natural gas vehicles over a 12 month period. The first of these, a transit van, is already being put through its paces by our Measurement Technicians, who map our pipe assets.

A larger flatbed truck, which we use to carry our roadworks barriers, will be hitting the road soon.

Trackers in the vehicles measure key stats such as fuel consumption, mileage and emissions in a variety of different driving conditions. We’ll be obtaining the same data from our diesel powered vehicles too, to provide a point of comparison.

Separately, we’re also working with Leeds City Council on a project to build the UK’s largest CNG refuelling station. If the van trial proves successful, we could expand our natural gas fleet in the future, and make regular use of the refuelling station.

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Carbon capture through mineralisation

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We’re working with a Cambridge start-up company to explore a new way of capturing the carbon from gas such as shale or biomethane.

The process sees gas put through a long tube, known as a bubble column reactor, to extract the carbon dioxide, leaving behind hydrogen.

Magnesium hydroxide is added to the extracted carbon dioxide, transforming it into a white solid material called magnesium carbonate, which has a variety of potential applications. There is scope to use it as a building material, due to its excellent fire retardant properties, or to make tyres with low rolling resistance.

Initial lab tests have been successful, and we are now moving to a second stage trial, which will explore the potential commercial market for the magnesium carbonate by-product.

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Driving forward with McLaren

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The company behind a world-beating Formula 1 racing team and one of the world’s biggest auditors may appear to have little in common with a gas distributor from the north of England.

But a new collaborative partnership is proving otherwise.

We’ve teamed up with McLaren and KPMG to gain new business insights from these two behemoths of the racing track and boardroom.

The project is allowing us to tap into the high performance culture, sophisticated analytics and business acumen of both companies.

Senior colleagues from both businesses have worked with us on a 12 week project to see how we can improve our approach to asset management and make smarter investment decisions about our network.

We have completed an initial project focused on asset investment in three areas of the business, and are now embarking on a follow-up initiative exploring areas such as optimising the cost of booking gas from off-take sites and sensitivity analysis.

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No longer stumped by stubs

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Gas distributors are tasked with decommissioning all small diameter gas pipes close to buildings, for safety reasons, by 2032.

Previous techniques for capping off these pipes left a short ‘stub’ of live pipe, where the small pipe abutted a larger diameter main.

This presented the dilemma of potentially having to dig up these stubs, at great expense and public inconvenience.

Together with our supplier, we’ve refined the legacy technique, to cap off a pipe without leaving a pesky stub.

After an extensive development and trial phase, the improved process is now being used extensively across our region.

The approach is expected to deliver savings of around £4 million and we’ll be sharing the learnings with the wider industry.

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Tackling water ingress

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When water finds its way into our network, due to flooding or a burst water main, it can often take days to remove, leading to major disruption for customers.

Working with a specialist supplier, we have developed a faster way of tackling water ingress. The process uses a remote camera which is sent down pipes to spot water, and simultaneously pump it out.

The initial idea and prototype was developed by our very own Rob Arthur, an NGN network technician who did much of the initial work in the garage at home.

The technology underwent successful field trials in 2015, and has since been used in several live water ingress incidents, including a hugely challenging incident in Consett, County Durham.

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Giving old pipes a new lease of life

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We’re big fans of a pipe renewal process known as ‘roll-down’ in which a new plastic pipe is reduced in size so it can be inserted into an old pipe, then expanded to form a tight lining.

The technique gives the old pipe a new lease of life, avoiding the disruption of having to dig large open trenches in the highway to replace it entirely.

Unfortunately, the roll-down process is expensive, requiring a large rig to be hired and operated on site. For smaller jobs, it’s simply cost prohibitive.

We’ve teamed up with our pipe supplier, Radius Systems, to see if they can provide a steady supply of pre-rolled pipe, so we can use this valuable technique more frequently.

Radius Systems began adapting its production process in February 2016. Work is progressing well, and we hope to start field trials of the pre-rolled pipe towards the end of 2016.

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Listening for leaks

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We’ve recently finished trials of advanced technology called Acoustek, which can listen for gas leaks.

The equipment comprises a probe and microphone which can send a sound wave 500 metres down a pipe. When the sound wave encounters an anomaly such as a leak of blockage, it bounces back, producing a sound graph that locates the problem.

The trials have been successful, and we are now entering the final stage of the project, which will involve putting the finishing touches to the prototype.

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Renewing pipes for high rise buildings

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Trials of a new pipe lining technique for steel ‘riser’ pipes serving multi-occupancy buildings have been completed.

Replacing these pipes is very challenging and disruptive for residents, and usually involves strapping new, unsightly pipes to the exterior of buildings. Refurbishing the old pipes is a more practical way to go.

We worked with our fellow gas distributors on the trials, and a final report is now being produced, which will help gas distributors decide on their approach in the future.

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New methods to pre-heat gas

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Before we can transport gas safely to homes and businesses, we have to reduce its pressure. This can cause the gas to freeze, requiring us to heat it up – a process known as pre-heating.

Traditional pre-heating units tend to be highly energy intensive. We are putting a number of types of heating units through their paces, to find less resource intensive, costly ways of carrying out this task.

Data is now being shared in real time, so that the whole industry can learn from the trial, with a full report and recommendations due by the end of 2017.

Click here to read more information

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