Topics of Importance R&D and Innovation: Pipeline Technologies and Emerging Technologies

2015 Performance


In 2015, Enbridge’s R&D and innovation-focused business segments and groups invested about $12.2 million in sustainability-related technology development and innovation projects.

Through our Green Power Transmission & Emerging Technology (GPT&ET) group, we managed a portfolio of investments in 15 innovative pre-commercial technologies.

In 2015, our Liquids Pipelines, Gas Distribution and Gas Pipelines, Processing & Energy Services business segments led, participated in or sponsored more than 81 R&D projects.

Enbridge’s 2015 Investments in Pipeline Technologies and Emerging Technologies

Enbridge’s business segments and the Green Power, Transmission & Emerging Technology group invested $12.2 million in sustainability-related technology development and innovation projects in 2015. The graph below shows how that amount breaks down within Enbridge, and which investment areas to which it was allocated.

Investment in Pipeline Technology

Investments in System Integrity, Leak Detection, Damage Prevention and Pipeline Operations

Electromagnetic Acoustic Transducer

Electromagnetic acoustic transducer (EMAT) is an emerging ultrasonic testing technique that operators can use to measure pipe thickness and detect cracks. In the past, EMAT was used primarily for gas pipelines, and is now being tested for use in liquids pipelines. LP is continuing to evaluate the use of EMAT during in-line inspection runs to detect pipeline cracking, including crack-like dents caused by mechanical damage.  

Magnetic Tomography

As part of our commitment to adapting and harnessing innovation in the name of safety, LP is examining the magnetic tomography method (MTM) for potential application at our pipelines facilities. An MTM inspection uses the electromagnetic properties of steel to create a remote 3-D image of a pipe, identifying the location of potential stress concentrations and associated pipeline features, which may require further examination. Technicians can walk directly above a pipeline’s path to scan it—without exposing or shutting it down—from above ground using MTM technology.  The technicians carry handheld MTM devices, which record magnetic field changes caused by the pipe’s features. They then download and analyze field data, which they use to identify external or internal corrosion, cracks or dents, metal loss, welding defects, or strain on pipe caused by ground instability. In 2015, LP used the technology to inspect 95 sections of pipe within six stations in Canada—most of it underground, and measuring 13 kilometers (eight miles) in total.

Bracelet Probe

Since 2013, LP has tested the use of a bracelet probe, an electromagnetic induction technique that can provide comprehensive inspections for corrosion under insulation. It can penetrate insulation up to 75 millimeters (three inches) thick, and provides highly accurate results for corrosion location and condition assessment. In 2013 and 2014, LP conducted its own validation of the technology, inspecting pipes at Enbridge facilities in Edmonton, northern Alberta, Regina and Superior, Wisconsin. The business segment found the technology to be accurate, thorough and practical to use, since it can monitor facility piping that otherwise would have to have all of its insulation removed for a thorough inspection. LP is now working to implement and adopt the probe as a proven method for inspecting corrosion under insulation on facility piping across our liquids pipeline network.

Geotextile Pipe Coating

While our pipelines are engineered to manage moving forces where necessary, LP has led a geohazard project to tackle the issue of incremental slope movement through the use of geotextile pipe coating. Since 2012, LP has used geotextile wrap on several pipeline construction projects in our network where our engineers anticipate potential for slope movement. When our carbon-steel pipe is wrapped with two layers of geotextile fabric—an interior layer of lagging, and an exterior sheath—those two layers glide against each other and reduce the friction factor from the soil’s contact with the pipe.

Advanced Underwater Sensing

In 2013, LP acquired an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) equipped with advanced sonar technology and, in partnership with Michigan Technological University, has been testing it to support LP’s pipeline integrity management program. During these tests, the AUV has been collecting side-scan sonar images to map the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac near our Line 5 crossing in northern Michigan. LP’s goal has been to provide a “visual” sonar image of our pipelines and to better understand how they interact with the surrounding bottom substrate on a year-over-year basis. The AUV will provide useful data regarding changes to the topography near and around the pipeline, and this information will help inform LP’s integrity management program for Line 5.

Environmental Monitoring Buoy

In 2015, LP began sponsoring deployment of an environmental real-time monitoring buoy in the Straits of Mackinac near Line 5. In August, Michigan Technological University’s Great Lakes Research Center deployed the buoy and began streaming data from the buoy to a publicly accessible website. Equipped with a hydroacoustic current meter, the buoy reports information on the constantly changing currents in the Straits. The buoy also measures conditions like wind direction and speed, water temperature, and wave height and direction. The buoy is expected to significantly improve the accuracy of weather forecasting in the Straits and the ability to issue public warnings by U.S. agencies like the National Weather Service.

Joint Industry Partnership Focused on Testing External Leak Detection Technologies

As part of its commitment to improving pipeline safety, Enbridge is collaborating with other pipeline operators to evaluate best-in-class external leak detection technologies. Since 2013, through a Joint Industry Partnership (JIP), Enbridge Pipelines and TransCanada have funded groundbreaking leak detection research, using the External Leak Detection Experimental Research (ELDER) test apparatus in Edmonton. The first tool of its kind in the world, ELDER allows external leak detection technologies to be evaluated in a setting that closely represents the actual conditions where liquids pipelines are installed. 

In 2015, Kinder Morgan Canada joined the partnership. Enbridge and TransCanada have each committed $1.6 million to the ELDER project, while Kinder Morgan has committed $1 million. The companies and C-FER Technologies, a leading-edge engineering firm, have been performing tests on four external leak detection technologies—vapor-sensing tubes, fiber-optic distributed temperature sensing systems, hydrocarbon-sensing cables and fiber-optic distributed acoustic sensing systems. Data analysis is ongoing, and the ELDER program is expected to continue into 2016.

Aerial-Based Leak Detection

Enbridge Pipelines, TransCanada and Kinder Morgan Canada have also announced a JIP to evaluate aerial-based leak technologies and their possible application on crude oil and hydrocarbon liquids pipelines. Testing and analysis is being carried out by C-FER Technologies. Potential technologies to be tested may include infrared camera-based systems, laser-based spectroscopy systems and flame ionization detection systems, with sensors suitable for mounting on light aircraft or helicopters.  Enbridge and C-FER Technologies are currently surveying commercial vendors of these technologies to validate their feasibility for liquid hydrocarbon pipelines. From there, a set of suitable vendors will be determined, with project research and field trials in the Edmonton area to follow in 2016, based on the readiness of the technologies.

Oil-on-Water Leak Detection

Our LP business segment is investigating oil-on-water leak detection sensors, as part of its effort to enhance leak detection and monitoring of waterways near our liquids pipelines and facilities. Since the spring of 2015, LP has been conducting an oil-on-water leak detection pilot project on the creek within our Edmonton Terminal, testing different sensor technologies for potential use with our projects and operations. Each sensor detects oil on water in a different way: one is based on direct contact with hydrocarbons; the second emits low-level microwaves; and the third views the surface of the water from above to detect reflections of light caused by very thin layers of oil on the water’s surface. The pilot project will continue through 2016, so LP researchers can monitor data collected by the sensor technologies through all four seasons. If the project is successful, the technology could be used to augment environmental water testing within Enbridge facilities, or to enhance monitoring at unmanned sites or water crossings.

Fiber-Based Cable Deployment

In 2015, LP began piloting a new fiber optic-based external leak detection system on a 32-kilometer (20-mile) stretch of the Flanagan South Pipeline. This system uses distributed temperature and acoustic software algorithms and fiber cable to monitor for potential leaks. Several years in development and construction, the fiber-optic cable system has been installed underground along the pipeline, and we are now monitoring the system’s capacity to respond to possible alarm situations.

Fiber-Optic Acoustic Monitoring System

In 2014, Enbridge invested $4 million in Hifi Engineering. The Calgary-based company has developed a next-generation fiber-optic monitoring system that listens for disturbances along pipelines and can also detect changes in temperature, strain and external pressure. Much more sensitive than previous generation fiber-optic sensors, the monitoring system can locate extremely low rate leaks with precision. To continue development, LP is supporting a project, sponsored by Sustainable Development Technology Canada, to evaluate its potential for deployment inside pipelines.

Tank Leak Detection and Prevention

Since 2012, Enbridge has invested a total of $2 million in Syscor Controls and Automation, a Canadian developer of wireless sensors used for deployment on storage tanks. Through this investment in Syscor, our company has furthered its vision of being the safest operator of hydrocarbon facilities. Syscor’s wireless sensors provide timely warning of potentially unsafe conditions by detecting discrepancies in operating parameters such as temperature, pressure, tank roof inclination and vapor emissions. In 2015, Syscor completed a pilot project at one of our liquids tank storage facilities in Alberta. LP is now working with Syscor to review project results and investigate enhancements to the sensors.

Liquids Pipeline Leak Detection Cable

LP is working with Syscor Controls and Automation on a project supported by Pipeline Research Council International to develop a leak detection system that is sensitive enough that it can detect very small amounts of hydrocarbon and robust enough that it can be plowed into the ground using well-established cable laying techniques.  The objective is to develop a leak detection technology that can be added to existing rights-of-way at a safe distance from the pipeline. The sensor nodes being designed will also be able to house other types of sensors, such as vibration sensors for right-of-way intrusion detection, and will be designed to be easily replaced if damaged.

Video Surveillance with Optical Sensing

In 2013, Enbridge invested $1.5 million in IntelliView Technologies, a Calgary-based developer of intelligent video solutions for industrial surveillance applications. IntelliView’s cutting-edge system uses automated, computerized monitoring and analysis of live feeds from remote video cameras and optical sensors to rapidly detect and report oil leaks or other potential operational incidents. This technology has been installed at a pump station in central Alberta and a pipeline pig trap location on Line 5 in Michigan, and our company continues to monitor its performance at both locations. In 2015, to support further development of this innovative technology, GPT&ET made a follow-on investment of $750,000 in IntelliView.

Wireless Network to Support Remote Pipeline Monitoring

Since 2013, Enbridge has invested US$15 million in On-Ramp Wireless, a California-based developer of wireless solutions for energy automation and machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. On-Ramp’s technology is the first purpose-built wireless network designed for connecting a large number of remote monitoring devices with very small data requirements. Our company plans to use On-Ramp’s wireless platform to support long-range sensor monitoring of our pipelines, helping to drive operational efficiencies and deliver information regarding pipeline integrity. In 2015, GD carried out a pilot project to test the connectivity and performance of the On-Ramp technology within its Greater Toronto Area gas distribution system.

Fiber-Optic Damage Prevention Technologies

For several years, GD has been actively testing fiber-optic damage prevention technologies as a potential solution to protecting vital high pressure gas distribution mains from third-party damages. In 2015, GD continued to evaluate three fiber optic-based threat detection systems. Based on promising results of testing completed in 2014, the detection algorithms were refined, with the goal of reducing nuisance alarms while detecting threats to high pressure distribution mains. A new set of testing was completed in November 2015. Preliminary results from this recent testing indicate a satisfactory reduction in nuisance alarms was achieved and the threat detection was maintained.

Advanced Gas Leak Detection Technologies

GD continues to test different methane detector technologies for leak survey applications. In 2015, for example, the business segment conducted a field test to assess a cavity ring down spectroscopy analyzer, which can be mounted on vehicles and offers a highly sensitive detection method for natural gas leaks. The technology enables GD to analyze gas sample data and to combine the data with GPS and wind information to pinpoint possible leak sources. This mobile technology has the potential to enhance GD’s current leak survey practices in rural areas and mains, providing a safer, faster and more accurate way of conducting leak surveys than walking surveys.

Non-Invasive Testing of Pipe in Ditch

In 2015, GPP&ES participated in a joint investigative project led by DNV GL, a global technical research firm, to determine new methodologies for determining pipe properties in ditch. Researchers are examining the use of available non-invasive testing technologies to assess the properties and strength of steel pipe, where documentation is not available. By using these technologies, our goal is to meet regulated inspection requirements while avoiding the need to remove sections of pipe for laboratory testing.

Automated Ultrasonic Corrosion Mapping System

In the past, inspections of gas plant vessels in GPP&ES have required taking equipment out of service and staff entering confined spaces to inspect and clean equipment. In 2015, GPP&ES introduced a new automated ultrasonic corrosion mapping system that can perform inspections externally without the need to take units out of service. As the tool moves along the exterior of a plant vessel, it uses an ultrasonic signal to identify and measure pitting in the metal surface. The equipment enables the business segment to meet regulatory requirements while avoiding plant shutdowns and improving worker safety. Already GPP&ES has successfully deployed the technology at four gas plants.

Investments in a Cleaner Energy Future

As global demand for energy continues to grow, we know that society wants to see wider use of clean power—and we believe finding lower-impact, lower-carbon energy solutions is in everyone’s interests. Our GD business segment is advancing innovative technologies that enable customers to increase the efficient use of natural gas and reduce emissions. Through our GPT&ET group, we are conducting pilot programs to enhance our green power operations. We also hope to add clean power platforms to our portfolio in the years to come, through investments in pre-commercial renewable and alternative energy technologies, large-scale electricity storage, and carbon capture and utilization.

Investments in Energy Efficiency, Gas Savings and Emissions Reduction

GD supports widespread market adoption of new technologies that drive energy efficiency, gas savings and emission reductions while simultaneously reducing end-user costs. These efforts are undertaken in support of GD’s demand-side management program. GD participates in these projects as a member of the Canadian Gas Association and the Gas Technology Institute, and is taking an interest in a number of active projects:

  • renewable natural gas (biogas) processing, using activated biochar, a charcoal-based filter
  • testing of condensing rooftop units (high efficiency gas-fired heating systems)
  • demand controls for central hot water systems
  • advanced load-monitoring controllers and condensing economizers (heat exchangers) to improve boiler efficiencies

Wind Farm Operations

Enbridge has invested in more than 2,500 MW (gross) of wind power capacity. To improve the operational reliability of our wind power projects, GPT&ET has begun a number of pilot programs:

  • As certain contracts with service providers expire, we are developing new monitoring programs that will prepare Enbridge for operational self-performance. In 2015, our engineers and IT professionals began development of an analytics program to provide real-time monitoring of operating conditions—including wind patterns—at our wind farms in Canada and the U.S.
  • At several wind farms in Ontario, anchor bolts have been added to secure wind turbines against earth movement.  In 2015, we began a pilot program at our Greenwich wind farm to test the use of strain gauges to provide condition-based monitoring of the bolts. This technology is expected to provide early warning detection of potential operational issues, while simultaneously reducing operations and maintenance costs from time-based inspections.
  • We are testing the use of different coatings to protect the edges of fiberglass wind turbine blades against erosion. Currently, to carry out erosion-related repairs, it is necessary to shut down the turbine and repair the eroded section of the blade up tower. If the test program is successful, we expect to increase the operating life of turbine blades and reduce the need for turbine shutdowns.
  • GPT&ET engineers are working with Enbridge’s Advanced Analytics team to build a predictive model to assess the remaining useful life of wind turbine blades when damages and defects are found. Through this effort, we expect to reduce the number of time-based inspections and strengthen our focus on high-priority blade issues, thereby optimizing inspection and repair costs over the asset’s life cycle.

Solar Power Technology

Since 2011, we have invested in next-generation solar technology through a $9.8-million investment in Morgan Solar, a Canadian start-up. Our investment is helping Morgan Solar commercialize a new line of concentrated photovoltaic (PV) panels that boost the power output of solar cells. The technology provides an innovative means of generating solar power more efficiently, for less cost and with a lower environmental footprint. In 2015, GPT&ET committed to a follow-on investment of $150,000 to support a demonstration of the technology at the Silver State North solar facility in Nevada. Construction of this demonstration project is expected to begin in 2016. This demonstration project has also received funding from the Canadian federal government through the Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) fund.

Run-of-River Hydro

Enbridge has a 50-per-cent interest in the Wasdell Falls Hydro Power Project on Ontario’s Severn River, north of Toronto. The 1.65-MW project completed construction and began commercial operation in December 2015. By directing water through a slow-moving turbine that returns the water to the river, the project is expected to have a low impact on its surroundings. This project is the first commercial deployment of this innovative technology in North America.

Electricity from Waste Energy Sources

Since 2012, Enbridge has invested in Genalta Power, a privately held Canadian corporation that builds, owns, operates and maintains independent power production facilities fueled by waste, excess or unused energy sources. Genalta Power already has 95.4 MW of projects with signed power purchase agreements and engineering projects throughout Canada, with several pending global installations.

Utility-Scale Energy Storage Technologies

As one of Canada’s largest producers of solar and wind power, and a company with large renewable energy projects in the U.S. as well, we are investing in technologies that support large-scale energy storage.

In April 2012, we entered into a partnership with Mississauga, Ontario-based Hydrogenics Corporation, whose water electrolysis technology can convert surplus renewable energy into hydrogen gas. Under the partnership, which included a $5-million investment by Enbridge, excess electricity from renewable generation would be converted into renewable hydrogen through electrolysis and injected into GD’s natural gas distribution network. By converting electricity to gas and storing it in vast natural gas pipeline networks, more renewable energy can be stored for long periods, increasing the amount of clean energy that can be generated and made available for consumers.

Currently, Enbridge and Hydrogenics are jointly developing a power-to-gas storage plant that will deliver 2 MW of storage capacity and will be located in the Greater Toronto Area. Hydrogenics will supply the facility’s next-generation proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolyzers and is partnering with us to develop, build and operate the energy storage facility to provide regulation services to Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO). The project is expected to begin commercial operation in 2016.

Since 2013, we have also invested $6.5 million in Temporal Power, an Ontario-based manufacturer of electrical energy storage systems. Temporal Power’s electrical energy storage technology is based on 4,080-kilogram (9,000-pound) solid-steel flywheels—essentially, mechanical batteries that store electrical energy as kinetic energy through continuous high-speed rotation. These flywheels can store surplus energy from renewable sources and then release that power quickly and powerfully back to the grid via an electricity generator, keeping the grid in balance and enabling the grid to embrace intermittent renewable sources such as wind and solar. Temporal’s technology has been incorporated into a 2-MW flywheel energy storage facility in Harriston, Ontario. In 2015, GPT&ET made a follow-on investment of $1.5 million to support further commercialization of the flywheel technology.

Carbon Utilization

In 2014, we invested US$10 million in Skyonic, a Texas-based developer of carbon-capture technology. Skyonic has developed a new process that captures carbon dioxide and converts the GHG into other products, including sodium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate, hydrochloric acid and bleach. In 2015, Skyonic commenced operations at a carbon capture and conversion demonstration project in San Antonio, Texas, with support from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Other Investments

We also continue to fund projects in advanced pipe technologies, natural gas transportation and bitumen extraction:

Advanced Composite Pipe

In 2013, we invested US$9.5 million in Smart Pipe Technologies, a developer, manufacturer and installer of a high-pressure internal replacement pipe.  The technology can use existing pipe as a conduit through which the high-strength, fiber-wrapped composite pipe is drawn, eliminating the need to retrench and making it especially suitable for use in environmentally sensitive or difficult-to-access areas such as river crossings and urban areas. In 2015, GPT&ET made a follow-on investment of $1.5 million to support further technology development. We continue to evaluate opportunities to deploy the technology in our business segments. LP, for example, is working with Smart Pipe to identify other applications that could take advantage of the unique properties of this composite pipe technology.

Marine Transportation of Compressed Natural Gas

Since 2010, we have invested $10 million in Sea NG, a Canadian company committed to commercializing marine compressed natural gas transportation. Sea NG has developed a system to transport compressed natural gas by sea. The gas will be held in purpose-built modules called coselles (coiled pipe in a carousel) that are designed to hold large amounts of compressed natural gas. This technology has the potential to reduce GHG emissions by displacing diesel and heavy fuel oils currently used in numerous coastal and island markets with clean, abundant natural gas.

Bitumen Extraction

Enbridge invested $15 million in Nsolv Corporation in 2006 to support the development of an innovative bitumen extraction technology. Nsolv’s technology uses warm propane or butane to dissolve and recover bitumen from in situ (in place) reserves efficiently and sustainably. Because of its low pressure, low temperature operation, it requires very little energy to produce the oil, helping to significantly reduce GHG emissions intensity compared to steam-assisted gravity drainage methods, and without the need for water. Since 2014, Nsolv has operated a pilot project at Suncor Energy’s Dover oil sands lease northeast of Fort McMurray. In September 2015, the project surpassed a key milestone, producing 60,000 barrels of oil, and operations are ongoing to continually improve and refine the process.

Industry Leadership

We continue to shape industry best practices and technology development through associations such as:

For more information, please see the Maintaining the Fitness of our Systems and Leak Detection section of this report. [provide link to the R&D and Innovation through Industry Leadership heading in the Maintaining the Fitness of our Systems and Leak Detection section]

We also actively advance R&D and technology innovation through a number of industry research organizations, including:

In 2015, we took a lead role in establishing the Canadian Pipeline Technology Collaborative (CPTC). The collaborative is a new initiative to develop and deploy technologies improving the safety and reliability of Canadian pipeline operations. CPTC will bring together Canada's pipeline operators, researchers, technology providers and equipment suppliers to address industry-wide priorities.