Transmission, Distribution, & Refining
Power Generation in Natural Gas Pipelines


Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) will evaluate the concept of power generation from natural gas flow in a pipeline, using flow-induced vibration in the system. Mechanical vibration produced in the pipeline may be converted to useful electrical power using piezoelectric transduction. This project will evaluate the feasibility of the concept and the specific technical issues related to generating power with this technique. LANL will conduct preliminary experiments to validate the concept and will provide a final report, including an analysis of all test results and a preliminary design for the power generation system.

Technology plays a significant role in assuring infrastructure integrity and reliability. While it is not the sole answer, it plays a major role in many critical areas. There are significant areas where relevant technology development can have a major role in providing public-sector benefits. Our national gas infrastructure is both vast and varied. Age, location, and materials used in construction of pipelines are major variables. The ability to inexpensively and efficiently monitor and assess pipeline integrity and status would provide an improved means for service-life prediction and defect detection to ensure operational reliability. One invariably needs a power source for any type of sensor required for monitoring, both for operating the sensor and also for transmitting the information to a central location. Currently, one relies on batteries to supply the required power. Unfortunately, batteries need to be replaced on a regular basis, increasing the maintenance cost. The ability to operate sensors without using batteries would enhance pipeline surveillance significantly.

Modern sensors that can be attached to a pipeline for monitoring structural integrity do not often use a lot of power for their operation. In addition, it is not necessary to operate these sensors continuously. Periodic (even once a day) data gathering and transmission may be sufficient. In such situations, the power requirement would be quite modest. This project addresses the development of a passive power generation approach that requires no maintenance (or periodic replacement), and is sufficient for operating modern sensors that meet future requirements.

Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos, New Mexico 87545

Potential Impact:
The ability to produce energy in a natural gas pipeline using a solid-state, maintenance-free device could provide the solution to powering the advanced robotic/sensor pipeline inspection systems under development. This would also allow for long range, unrestricted evaluation of the natural gas pipeline infrastructure.

This work indicates that it appears feasible to extract power from natural gas flow in pipelines and use this power to operate sensors, at least in discontinuous mode where the power builds up over a period of time and triggers a measurement when some threshold is reached.

Various types of sensors can be integrated with such a system and form a network of sensors with each module behaving as anode in that network. The connection among the nodes can be done through wireless communication and powered through energy harvesting from the pipeline itself. In the near future, the technology is expected to improve sufficiently that even continuous surveillance of a pipeline (e.g., structural integrity monitoring) may be possible. It will also be important to develop appropriate sensors that can work with very low power.

Current Status and Remaining Tasks: 
All experimental work has been completed. An approved final report has been submitted and the project has concluded.

Project Start: September 2004
Project End: March 2005

DOE Contribution: $25,000
Performer Contribution: $0

Contact Information:
NETL – Daniel Driscoll ( or 304-285-4717))
Los Alamos National Laboratory/LANL – Diphen Sinha ( or 505-667-0062)

Additional Information:
Final Report - August, 2005: Power Generation in Pipelines [PDF-822KB]