Imagine a shore-based gas plant operator detecting a tiny gas leak from a remote sub-sea pipeline in real-time, giving advance warning to fix it before a problem surfaces. That’s the aim of research from StFX earth sciences professor Dr. David Risk, who is developing cutting-edge fiber optic sensing technologies to make this ability commonplace in the industry.
Dr. Risk and his team of StFX student researchers have been conducting ongoing fiber optics research with colleagues across Canada, and now this expertise has caught the attention of Encana, a company that developed the Deep Panuke offshore natural gas project. They are funding the research to detect dissolved natural gas near the seafloor with $100,000 over two years.
“Sponsoring research on promising Nova Scotian environmental technologies is a part of Encana’s ongoing commitment to funding the advancement of education, training, research and development in relation to offshore petroleum resource activities in Nova Scotia,” Dr. Risk says. “We are thrilled with Encana’s support.”
The Risk scientific team is looking at developing distributed networks of wire-thin fiber optic cables with specially designed sensor nodes that can detect gases dissolved in the ocean waters and transit this leak concentration information back to the environmental safety operations staff.
“This is Nova Scotia-based oceans research from a primarily undergraduate university, one developing an international reputation for innovation,” says Andrew Kendall, StFX’s Manager of Industry Liaison.
PhD student Sonja Bhatia is working with Dr. Risk and is most closely involved with the fiber optics project to date. “It’s very exciting to be working in the oceans technology sector,” says Ms. Bhatia, who is getting hands-on experience with fiber optics, and the experience of setting up a new research lab in Nova Scotia.
“The project is really multidisciplinary, where we have to bridge the gap between bench and field. In the past few weeks, I’ve already had some new interactions with the StFX biofouling research group to figure out what we can expect to grow on the sensors. This has been a great experience. StFX has a lot of the right people to make research of this type move forward.”