Collaboration drives water industry innovation

In collaboration with Sydney Water, University of New South Wales (UNSW) researchers are testing new leak detection technology.

The patented sonar array optical technology, developed by UNSW, will be used to detect leaks in Sydney Water’s network.

With an estimated loss of 10 per cent per day from the city’s water mains, the technology has the potential to save billions of litres of water each year.

Sydney Water has funded UNSW School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications Professor Francois Ladouceur and partners Thales Underwater Systems and Zedelef to test whether the optical sonar array technology can accurately pinpoint leaks in the city’s water pipes.

The initial viability of the technology’s use for ocean monitoring was confirmed in successful trials at Lake Macquarie in 2018.

For the 2019 Sydney Water trial, the sonar array will be placed in a water main before a leak is simulated.

“Our sonar array is like a 50 m strip of garden hose with 16 microphones inside it, equally distributed along its length,” said Mr Ladouceur.

“These microphones detect the smallest of sounds and we use a single optical fibre to send all this information back to dedicated software that computes where a leak is located.”

Current technology requires an expensive and difficult-to-handle bundle of wires for the array; Mr Ladouceur said that optical technology will allow this bundle to be replaced with a cheaper, lighter and more durable single optical fibre.

Image courtesy UNSW.

If successful, large areas of the water network could be regularly inspected with the design of a longer sonar array, or robots could be used to drag arrays over vast distances through the pipes to listen for leaks.

The trial is part of a wider project – led by the NSW Smart Sensing Network and funded by Sydney Water and other utilities – that brings together five Australian universities to test emerging leak detection technologies.

“If the economics work out, our technology could be laid down inside of all new pipes as they’re being built, and then they will have permanent leak detection,” said Mr Ladouceur.

For more information visit the UNSW website.

If you have news you would like featured in Trenchless Australasia contact Assistant Editor Chloe Jenkins at cjenkins@gs-press.com.au

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