Engineering researchers collaborate to study pipeline corrosion

Ashraf Bastawros, professor of aerospace engineering, has received a $300,000 grant from the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHSMA). Along with Dr. Kurt Hebert from chemical engineering, Dr. Pranav Shrotriya from mechanical engineering, and Dr. Leonard Bond from the Center of Non Destructive Evaluation, Bastawros will develop advanced detection methods to calculate the physical and mechanical changes associated with early stress corrosion cracking in high strength pipeline steel.

Ashraf Bastawros, Leonard Bond, Kurt Hebert, and Pranav Shrotriya

The United States currently has almost 210,000 miles of liquid pipeline, with some of those pipelines ranging in age from 50-80 years old. As those pipelines age and endure corrosion from the soil
they start to crack, which can lead to shutting down the pipeline or even worse, leaks or explosions that can cause death and massive amounts of destruction.

“The trouble with stress corrosion is the limits of detection,” Bastawros said. “People discover these cracks and it is already too late. The cracks are small and can not be detected.”

To perform an inspection, technicians will shut down the pipeline and run a robotic device through the the line as it takes readings on the interior of the pipeline. At this point, the device will only be able to read large cracks in the steel.  

“Our approach is very different. Pipelines will have a lot of sub-surface changes. What we are trying to identify is at a very early stage, what are those sub-surface changes and if we can measure them.”

The group will investigate how to identify the precursors of a large crack in a pipeline. If they can find a way to identify a problem before the crack reaches tens of millimeters, they can remedy the problem before mass damage occurs.

Bastawros envisions that the progress made in pipeline research could be applicable for many other uses. “Corrosion is not prone only to pipeline, it is everything,” Bastawros said. “It is a multibillion-dollar annual loss. It includes infrastructure, airborne assets, marine assets, energy distribution lines, as well as nuclear power.”

If the group can find success increasing the lifespan of pipelines, future opportunities are endless.