SwRI Wins Two 2017 R&D 100 Awards

Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) today announced its Smart Leak Detection (SLED) and High Power Impulse Plasma Source (HiPIPS) systems have each received R&D 100 Awards for being among the 100 most significant innovations in 2017.

Leaks in the U.S. liquid hydrocarbon pipelines network exceeded 100,000 barrels each year between 2007 and 2012. Using algorithms to process images from sensors scanning the infrastructure, SLED can autonomously pinpoint small hazardous leaks before they become major problems, with minimal false alarms. These sensors can be positioned at sensitive pipeline junctures or deployed on drones to cost-effectively fly over pipeline networks.

“It makes both environmental and economic sense to identify the smallest oil and gas leaks as early as possible to help ensure environmental safety and pipeline system reliability,” said SwRI’s Maria Araujo, lead developer for SLED. “The SwRI solution fuses inputs from low-cost optical sensors and applies machine learning techniques to reliably detect the chemical ‘fingerprints’ of small hazardous liquid leaks, before they become major spills. It can differentiate between a hydrocarbon and an innocuous puddle of water.”

SwRI’s HiPIPS system generates coatings using high-density, high-flux plasmas at low temperatures and atmospheric pressures. These coatings extend the life, enhance the properties and prevent damage and corrosion of materials and components. HiPIPS is a convenient, cost-effective alternative to surface engineering techniques that typically require thermal processes or vacuum chambers. Potential applications include coatings on plastics, textiles and biologically sensitive materials as well as depositing protective metallic and ceramic coatings as an environmentally friendly alternative to electroplating.

“HiPIPS has already had groundbreaking successes in developing coatings for defense applications,” said SwRI’s Dr. Vicky Poenitzsch, who led HiPIPS’ development. “HiPIPS outperforms other ambient pressure plasmas and rivals vacuum plasma systems and could revolutionize the surface engineering industry.”

Known as the “Oscars of Innovation” in the science and technology world, R&D Magazine’s annual R&D 100 Awards recognize the most significant technologies the nation’s scientists and engineers create.  The 2017 awards were handed out on Nov. 17.

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