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Technology Research & Development: Success Stories

R&D success stories images

PHMSA is proud of the successes seen through its heavy investment in Research and Development efforts focused on technology! PHMSA conducts and sponsors research projects focused on providing near-term solutions that will increase the safety, cleanliness, and reliability of our Nation's pipeline system. Below are links to just some of our technology development success stories. We will update and add to this list from time to time. Please visit our "Program Performance" navigation link to view our broader successes.

Threat Prevention

  1. Digital Mapping of Buried Pipelines with a Dual Array System DTRS56-02-T-0005 (12/31/2004)
    Witten's patented technology was at the time, the first commercial system capable of producing highly accurate, three-dimensional maps and images efficiently and noninvasively (without digging) in conditions as much as ten feet underground and based on rapid computer analysis of radar images.
  2. Acoustic-based Technology to Detect Buried Pipes DTPH56-10-T-000020 (7/31/2011)
    This project improved the Ultra-Trac® APL acoustic pipe locator through multiple validation demonstrations at several urban utility sites. As part of the research an algorithm for improved locating of pipes without tracer wire (or broken wire) was developed and tested. The improvements will assist the pipeline operators in detecting buried metallic and non-metallic pipes, reduce excavation damages.
  3. Advanced Development of PipeGuard Proactive Pipeline Damage Prevention System DTPH56-10-T-000019 (9/30/2012)
    This project improved the Senstar FiberLR Pipeline Protection Sensor System that can provide protection over up to 48 km (30 mi.) via a cable buried beside the pipeline.
  4. Surface Multi-Utility Asset Location Tool DTPH56-13-T-000001 (08/01/2014)
    This project collected additional data in laboratory and in the field with the Acoustic Pipe Locator (APL) to develop guidelines to detect multiple pipes. The developed guideline will assist the industry to detect multiple pipes in the local area and will ultimately reduce the third party damages before excavations or construction.
  5. GPS-Based Excavation Encroachment Notification DTPH56-08-T-000017 (12/03/2018)
    The GPS Excavation Encroachment Notification (EEN) system developed through the PHMSA project was a crucial component in the final commercial product which was licensed to HydromaxUSA under the product name UtilAlert. The benefits of using this product include minimizing the cost of damages, avoiding delays to completion schedules, enhancing safety for workers and general public, and enhancing situational awareness and reducing risks for stakeholders.
  6. Improved Tools to Locate Buried Pipelines in a Congested Underground 693JK31810009 (6/1/2018)
    The project developed and validated a geospatial probe to map existing buried utilities through insertion into live gas pipelines. The resulting technology transfer led to the Live Gas Mapper (LGM-2) tool by REDUCT. The LGM-2 can map buried live gas pipes with an ID range of 50mm up to 100mm (2" to 4"). From a single hot tap entry point it can map a gas pipe up to 300 meters/1,000' length in each direction, thus capturing data and the geographical location of 600 meters/2,000' of live gas pipe.

Leak Detection

  1. Airborne LIDAR Pipeline Inspection System Mapping Tests DTPH56-01-X-0023 (4/30/2007)
    This project resulted in a helicopter based fast, efficient, and accurate tool for detecting and mapping natural gas and hazardous liquid pipeline leaks.
  2. Hazardous Liquids Airborne Lidar Observation Study (HALOS) DTRS56-04-T-0012 (9/14/2007)
    This research enhanced the capability of the former ITT (ANGEL) technology to detect methane and liquid leaks. This technology has resulted in DIAL collection and data processing improving from 3-4 weeks to one day. In conclusion, Route Generation can now be accomplished in the field and requires only 1 hour of effort to generate 100 miles of pipeline routes. This is a 30X improvement in speed.
  3. Free-Swimming Acoustic Tool for Liquid and Natural Gas Pipeline Leak Detection DTPH56-08-T-000007 (8/31/2010)
    This project leverage a free-swimming acoustic leak detection tool that is currently used in the water pipeline industry and further develop the device for application in oil product pipelines and evaluate its potential for natural gas pipelines.
  4. INO Technologies Assessment of Leak Detection Systems for Hazardous Liquid Pipelines DTPH56-13-T-000003 (09/08/2015)
    The program demonstrated the ability to externally locate, identify, and assess small liquid and gaseous leaks (weepers/seepers) from a safe standoff distance. The confidence gained from the research project enabled the launch of FlyScan, which detects volatile compounds using a spectroscopic lidar.
  5. Rapid Aerial Small Methane Leak Survey DTPH56-15-T-00016L (11/20/2018)
    As a result of the research investment, the technology enables rapid leak survey of natural gas transmission pipelines from low-cost, single engine aircraft, with plume imagery to differentiate blow-over sources from off-system facilities.
  6. Natural Gas Pipeline Leak Rate Measurement System DTPH56-15-T-00015L (12/04/2018)
    The project supported development of the Heath MobileGuardTM gas leak detection system which consists of a methane/ethane analyzer, GPS, a sonic anemometer and proprietary leak detection software that presents real-time geospatial maps of multiple gas concentrations.

Anomaly Detection & Characterization

  1. NoPig Metal-Loss Detection System for Non-Piggable Pipelines DTRS56-03-T-0006 (12/31/2004)
    The sponsored research resulted in the NoPig inspection technique. The NoPig technique realizes a nondestructive testing method for unpiggable pipelines which uses above ground measurements for detecting wall thickness anomalies like corrosion. The method uses an applied current between two points on a pipeline up to 1 km apart.
  2. Enhancement of the Long-Range Ultrasonic method for the Detection of Degradation in Buried, Unpiggable Pipelines DTRS56-02-T-0007 (6/30/2005)
    Improvements were integrated in the TeleTest operating software that facilitates the new sound beam focusing technique. It improves the sensitivity and range of inspection and identifies which quadrant of the pipe circumference contains the defect measured in cross sectional area. Hardware improvements were also made to support the multi wave focusing.
  3. Cathodic Protection Current Mapping In-Line Inspection Technology DTPH56-05-T-0005 (7/31/2006)
    This project developed a commercially viable in-line inspection tool that measures current traveling in the pipe due to cathodic protection or stray current from sources other than the pipeline system's cathodic protection system. The data provides information used to diagnose problems with the cathodic protection system, coatings and others.
  4. Validation and Enhancement of Long Range Guided Wave Ultrasonic Testing: A Key Technology for Direct Assessment of Buried Pipelines DTRS56-05-T-0002 (12/7/2006)
    This project developed and tested in the field enhanced methods of using ultrasonic guided waves, employing a physical focus of the ultrasonic energy to increase sensitivity for detection of corrosion and other defects in pipelines. Its implemented in both hardware and software in the Plant Integrity Teletest® FocusTM system. This allows classification of the severity of defects detected from guided wave test.
  5. Enhancing Direct Assessment with Remote Inspection through Coatings and Buried Regions DTPH56-06-T-000009 (3/31/2007)
    This NDT technology can inspect above ground piping coated with less than 3mm thick. Eliminating the need to strip the thin corrosion barrier coatings such as Polyken, Fusion Bonded Epoxy, Tapecoat, Mastic, etc. This technique continues to expand the miles of pipelines inspected by improving the economy of inspection. The second facet of project is a new technique capable of inspecting thick Coatings greater than 20mm.
  6. Internal Corrosion Direct Assessment Detection of Water DTPH56-06-T-000010 (12/31/2008)
    This effort designed, developed and validated the Sentinel Aqua wireless sensor system that can detect the presence and location of water in gas pipelines. The sensor system is in the form of a 1.5" diameter sphere that can roll along the pipe propelled by gas flow.
  7. Long Term Monitoring of Cased Pipelines Using Long-Range Guided-Wave Technique DTPH56-06-T-000006 (3/31/2009)
    The research mustered the following improvements on this technology: (1) Inspect inaccessible areas from a remote accessible pipeline location with or without product in the pipeline to detect erosion, corrosion. (2) Evaluate damage severity based on signal strength and characteristics. (3) Detect both ID/OD wall loss and circumferential cracks. (4) Detection of 2 to 5% change of cross-sectional area using the survey mode or 1% using the monitoring mode. (5) Defect Accuracy (2.5" per every 30 FT) (6) Test range - varies depending on piping conditions.
  8. Application of Remote-Field Eddy Current Testing to Inspection of Unpiggable Pipelines DTRS56-02-T-0001 (9/30/2009)
    The new RFEC sensor configured and tested for application to the internal inspection of natural gas pipelines. Some of its capabilities are: (1) Detection and characterization of corrosion. (2) Operation in natural gas systems up to 750 psig. (3) Retraction and deployment of the sensor pads during launching procedures and negotiating obstacles in systems un-piggable by traditional technology.
  9. Design Construction and Demonstration of a Robotic Platform Capable of Inspecting Unpiggable Gas Pipelines DTRS56-05-T-0002 (12/31/2010)
    This work lead to the commercial deployment of the first ever inspection platform (Explorer II) and integrated sensor capable of internal unpiggable gas pipeline inspection.
  10. Meandering Winding Magnetometer-Array Detection & Characterization of Damage through Coatings and Insulation DTPH56-08-T-000009 (5/27/2011)
    The project provided a foundation for the development of the enhanced characterization of mechanical damage, corrosion, SCC, and welding defects being developed under related DOT funding (Project 354, Contract DTPH56-10-T-000009). It has also led to commercially-funded demonstrations for the characterization of internal and external corrosion through insulation and weather protection.
  11. Broadband Electromagnetic Technology Sensor to Assess Ferrous Pipes without Removing Coatings in Both Traditional and Keyhole Excavations DTPH56-08-T-000024 (12/12/2011)
    The project developed a Broadband Electromagnetic direct assessment tool that is enhancing pipeline integrity, operational reliability and efficiency of the national distribution and transmission pipelines.
  12. Adaptation of MWM-Array and MFL Technology for Enhanced Detection/Characterization of Damage from Inside Pipelines DTPH56-08-T-000009 (3/31/2012)
    This project adapted JENTEK's Meandering Winding Magnetometer (MWM) Array and Magnetoresistive (MR) MWM Array for inspection and characterization of pipeline damage from inside the pipe using an in-line inspection or JENTEK PIG-IT tool. Advancements were made in the sensor configuration, instrumentation layout, mechanical integration, and data processing algorithms.
  13. Completion of Development of Robotics Systems for Inspecting Unpiggable Transmission Pipelines DTPH56-10-T-000008 (12/31/2012)
    This work led to the commercial deployment and deployment of the first ever robotic inspection platform (Explorer) and integrated Magnetic Flux Leakage sensor capable of internal unpiggable gas pipeline inspection through many internal obstructions including plug valves. Explorer is an untethered, modular, remotely controllable, self-powered inspection robot for the visual and nondestructive inspection of 20" and 26" natural gas transmission and distribution system pipelines.
  14. A Quantitative Non-destructive Residual Stress Assessment Tool for Pipelines DTRT57-12-C-10054 (9/28/2014)
    This inspection tool quantitatively measures residual stress in pipeline damage to determine the susceptibility of damaged regions to failure. The eStressTM system provide much more insight into the nature and severity of the stresses near dents and damage regions. This technology coupled with modeling will differentiate between good and bad amount of stress.
  15. Improve and Develop ILI Tools to Locate, Size and Quantify Complex/Interacting Metal Loss Features DTPH56-13-T-000009L (06/28/2016)
    The project enabled a new Mechanical Damage Prioritization Process distinguishing dents with metal loss from dents with gouges by creating a process by using multiple magnetic fields and field angles to distinguish a gouge from metal loss in a dent, as well as from a plain dent.
  16. In-Ditch Validation Methodology for Determination of Defect Sizing DTPH56-13-T-000008L (04/13/2020)
    The research development and validation success in this project supported incorporating IWEX technology onto calibration tools, seam weld inspections and magnetic crawlers for stress corrosion cracking inspections.
  17. Development, Field Testing & Commercialization of a Crack & Mechanical Damage Sensor for Unpiggable Natural Gas Transmission Pipelines DTPH56-13-T-000006 (02/08/2021)
    The research developed and thoroughly demonstrated a cracking and mechanical damage sensor in the inspection of unpiggable natural gas pipelines.
  18. Electro Magnetic Acoustic Transducer Sensor for Small Diameter and Unpiggable Pipes; Prototype and Testing DTPH5615T00018L (6/23/2022)
    The project developed and then demonstrated the ability of the Electro Magnetic Acoustic Transducer (EMAT) crack tool to detect tight/closed cracks down to 2MM deep for 8” diameter pipes in traditionally difficult to inspect pipelines. The Intellectual Property from this research and from the prior research project under PHMSA contract # DTPH56-13-T-000007 evolved into a free-swimming tool that operates at 2 m/s, navigates 1.5 diameter bends, and can be pressurized to 2,200 psi. The EMAT Crack In Line Inspection tool is now being offered by Baker Hughes/Qi2 Elements.


  1. Innovative Welding Processes for Small to Medium Diameter Gas Transmission Pipelines DTRS56-05-T-0001 (4/30/2006)
    The project developed and demonstrated Root Pass Welding Techniques, Improved Root Pass Techniques, and Process Control Systems for Pipeline Girth Welding with the CRC-Evans pulsed gas metal arc welding (GMAW-P) technology (P-450 & P-260).
  2. Advanced Welding Repair and Remediation Methods for In-service Pipelines DTRS56-03-T-0009 (6/1/2007)
    The new automated system is approximately 2.3 times faster and 62% cheaper than manual welding. Work continues by Bug-O Systems to reduce the system mounting time in order to further improve cost effectiveness when compared to manual welding. Automated system time is 30-36 min for $176.00 estimated cost compered to around 2.5 hours for $ 280.85 per sleeve.

Alternative Fuels

  1. Monitoring Conditions Leading to SCC/Corrosion of Carbon Steel DTPH56-08-T-000013 (3/30/2011)
    The project validated a reliable ethanol stress corrosion cracking monitoring tool that enable timely corrective actions to be made. In addition to pipeline applications, this monitoring tool can be also used for other modes of ethanol transportation.
  2. Technical and Economic Feasibility of Preventing SCC through Control of Oxygen DTPH56-10-T-000004 (4/14/2012)
    As part of the broader scope, the project validated the use of oxygen probes for measuring oxygen levels in pure ethanol and in fuel grade/neat ethanol. The project improved Polestar oxygen probes so that they could directly measure the oxygen concentrations in ppm rather than in a partial pressure environment common with legacy systems.