When you bang your toe, the human nervous system instantly transmits a signal to tell the brain where to feel pain. Ouch.
Imagine a similar system for sewer pipes that could inform utilities exactly where a crack or potential blockage of fats, oils, greases and wipes – known as fatbergs – is taking place, all in real time.
Well such an idea is being turned into a reality.
British organisation nuron has raised over £2 million in investment, loans and grants and is working to commercialise and scale up a fibre technology that acts like a human nervous system, but for sewers.
Developed in conjunction with Sheffield University, the company believes its solution could disrupt what has historically been a low-tech part of the water cycle network: transporting wastewater from source to treatment.
How it works
The fibre sensor extends along the bottom of sewer pipes with claims to be able to measure flow, depth, temperature and structural integrity every five metres along the sewer pipe.
“By measuring multiple parameters at the same time, every 5m along a sewer network, it enables potential incidents to be accurately diagnosed, alert, rapidly localised and averted,” the company said.
To differentiate itself from existing sewer sensor technology, the company’s fibre sensing technology is not ‘spot’ but rather offers ‘continuous’ in-pipe monitoring.
Although distributed acoustic sensing technology is not new, currently being used in oil and gas market, the company believes “enhancements” will ensure it works in open flows, rather than pressurised systems.
nuron is hoping its system can serve two purposes: predictive management of sewers but also a way to roll out digital infrastructure by integrating broadband and 5G networks fibre cable networks into the sewer pipes.
Going down under
Northumbrian Water in the UK will be the first utility to adopt nuron’s solution.
A pilot project in a “live operational sewer” will take place for eight months, with installation set for December and initial results in early 2019.
To retrofit old pipes, sewer flow will be stopped before pipe cleaning. A robotic system is then used to pull the containment through the sewer, before installing it backwards, in turn “sticking” it to the sewer floor.
Sally Askew, sewerage project manager at Northumbrian Water said the technology will enable the utility “to understand how to pro-actively monitor the sewer network in real-time” with the aim to “identify issues such as blockages before they affect customers”.
Australia’s largest water and wastewater provider Sydney Water has also signed up as a partner on the Northumbrian trial and will gain access to the data.
According to nuron managing director Claire Fenwick, the Australian utility is specifically interested in how the fibre sensors can detect hydrogen sulphide, a challenge in the Australian market as result of numerous metal sewer pipes.