Alberta nanotech firm uses ‘smart paint’ to detect pipeline leaks

More than 450,000 kilometers of pipeline cross Alberta.

Oil and gas companies use a variety of technologies to detect leaks, but most are intended to target major, large-scale incidents.

“They’re only really good at catching the really big leaks,” said Direct-C CEO Adrian Banica. “If you have a major production disruption it will pick it up, but it won’t pick up the small seeps which over time and in critical places can cause a lot of damage.”

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Direct-C is an Alberta company that uses nanotechnology to not only detect leaks, but also small infiltrations in oil and gas lines.

“We take various proprietary polymers and mix nanoparticles into them to create a smart paint system that, once applied to a surface, we can use that paint to sense what’s going on with that surface.”

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The nanoparticles are used to create what the company calls a “smart paint,” designed to react only to liquid hydrocarbons like natural gas.

It is then sprayed onto a substrate and attached to circuitry, before being split into one-inch wide detection strips up to 100 meters long. This tape is then attached to pipelines, where it can monitor and detect even the smallest of leaks.


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Direct-C has been adopted worldwide, including, he said, among half of the Pathways

Alliance members, major oil and gas producers in Canada.

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Of course, it’s not just fancy painting that works on pipeline integrity. Companies are expanding their leak detection systems to include drone, acoustic, and anti-corrosion technologies.

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The Alberta Energy Regulator said, in a statement: “[We] are interested in the potential of any new development of reliable and innovative technologies to further improve pipeline performance and reduce risk to the public and the environment.

According to the AER’s Pipeline Performance Report, “In 2021, there were approximately 41% fewer incidents than in 2012, even though the total number of pipeline kilometers increased by 9% during of the same period”.

For more information on Alberta’s current pipeline integrity standards and requirements, see AER Directive 077: Pipelines — Requirements and Reference Tools.


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