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Innovation & Education

In Lighting the Path to Innovation Blog
authored by HARNESSING THE POWER OF FIBER OPTICS IN ENERGY FIELDS

The energy industry is the third largest industry in the United States, with companies producing oil, natural gas, coal, nuclear power, renewable energy and fuels, as well as electricity, smart grid, and demand response technologies. Despite the magnitude of the industry, there is room for increased efficiencies in energy production. Take oil and gas for example, only a fraction of crude oil or gas in existing wells can be removed using current extraction methods and oil companies are continuously looking for ways to optimize production. The oil industry requires better techniques to monitor the structural integrity of rigs and risers in order to reduce costly downtimes that limit production capabilities. In addition, ensuring the integrity of oil rigs and overall safety of employees and the general population is a constant priority.

But the Energy Industry is Changing

Understanding how engineering structures respond to loads and their environment is of paramount importance for their successful design and reliable operation. Analyzing the strains, stresses, temperatures, and deflections in a subsea riser is what allows engineers to predict a structure’s lifetime, increase its safety and optimize its performance. While subsea risers are designed to withstand some of the most complex loads and harsh environments, the dynamic nature of the riser – its components, and its environment – exposes it to stresses, material wear, mechanical degradation, impacts, and environmentally induced loads. These and other factors make the ability of sensors and instrumentation to measure the riser’s structural response to loads critical.

On the renewables side, wind turbines are now commonplace – positioned in locations where they can gather and convert the most energy as efficiently as possible, but also subject to a range of environmental and weather conditions. In addition, developments to wind turbines have called for taller overall turbines and longer blades to improve efficiencies. The bigger the structure, the more complex the maintenance scheme. Engineers continue to design stronger, lightweight materials, but the smallest imperfections during manufacturing or damage during operation can cause operational failures.

While downtime may not be significant depending on the turbine design, repair costs can be. More accurately detecting damage during runtime and at the finest-resolution level offers benefits that translate into lower maintenance costs and the assurance of blade integrity. Blade geometry is carefully designed to maximize turbine efficiency, but the aerodynamic loads encountered during operation inevitably cause them to deflect, twist, and vibrate, leading to an altered aerodynamic response and decreased efficiency.

Problem Solving with Fiber Optics

FOS systems have the ability to provide engineers with accurate, real-time data of strain fields, shape, distributed loads, temperature, and more. At Sensuron, we use compact fiber optic systems with thousands of distributed sensors to ensure maximum coverage from a single lightweight optical fiber. Immune to EMI and chemically inert, our technology is ideal for hazardous and difficult physical environments.

In the case of subsea risers, FOS can provide real-time information on riser loads, shape, and performance, which are all factors that periodic inspections can miss. FOS can also reduce the consequences of unreported collisions with risers by revealing changes in strain fields and load distributions. Real-time monitoring also supports forensic engineering by storing data on actual events as they occur. This capability assists in determining the ‘how and why’ of an incident to prevent recurrence – a key element of risk management.

By utilizing FOS technology to obtain real-time knowledge of turbine blade shape and vibrational behavior, it is possible to compensate for performance changes. Control schemes utilizing this information may be developed to autonomously adjust the blades to decrease deflections, redistribute loads, or to dampen out individual vibrational frequencies. Therefore, the blades would see less deviation from their nominal and most efficient shape. Data taken over longer periods of time would aid in the development of future designs, improving the future of wind turbines in the mix of renewable energy products.

Essentially, the ways in which FOS can be used in energy applications are endless. Some additional real world examples of how FOS can be used in energy fields include:

  • The monitoring for strain and temperature changes in drilling and exploration
  • Monitoring the position and structural health of components, risers and rigs (as mentioned above)
  • Sensing nuclear power plant component structural health and alignment
  • Wind turbine blade damage detection, feedback control, load monitoring, and structural health monitoring

Learn more about Sensuron’s compact FOS technology and how you can apply it to today’s problems in the energy field.

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