Smart robotics could soon be used to extend the life of pipes in Australia and around the world thanks to a $3 million research project into smart lining for pipes funded by the Australian Government’s Cooperative Research Centre Projects stream.

Executive Director of the Water Services Association of Australia, Adam Lovell, said, “Water utilities around the world manage water and sewerage infrastructure to provide the most essential of the essential services.

“In Australia, we have over 260,000km of water and sewerage pipes – enough to go around the  earth more than six times. Around  70 per cent of it is underground and often forgotten, until there is a pipe burst under a major road. The inconvenience it creates is a growing issue in our busy cities and towns, but replacing kilometres of pipe is a very costly exercise.

“Many water and sewer pipes in our cities and towns are approaching the end of their life and to completely replace them can cost thousands of dollars per metre. Water utilities can potentially keep customer bills down by using new materials or new smart robotics and sensors in repairing pipes instead of replacing them.

“With limited budgets for asset replacements, the global water industry is required to do more with less; it needs to be more innovative to develop products to extend infrastructure ‘end of life’.”

Pipe lining technology has the potential to substantially increase the service life of pipes by up to 50 years at lower cost.

Over the past five years, liner products have been introduced to the market, tested individually, but not widely adopted by the industry.

Lining has had limited market penetration which can be attributed to limited demonstrable long-term performance, consistent standards and specifications.

This project also presents an innovative opportunity for Australia to incorporate smart technology  such as non-invasive sensing into lining products.

The global market opportunity for smart lining products is significant, and estimated at more than $60 billion over the next 10 years, conservatively assuming linings are 10 per cent of pipe renewals.

Australia represents five per cent of this market, so expanding market opportunities for Australian small and medium enterprises (SMEs) offers huge potential.

In addition to this, other benefits include improved public and environmental health benefits by minimising pipe bursts and leaks, lower costs of water to customers, and the potential for SMEs to sell lining and sensing products to other applications or industries such as oil and gas, and marine.

“The market opportunity is significant, however there are currently no clear performance and application guidelines and standards in Australia. This has resulted in limited uptake of the technology and therefore investment of Australian SMEs in lining innovations,” Mr Lovell said.

“We have an opportunity with this project to improve knowledge in these products and applications, enabling the development of industry standards, specifications and tools, and confirming the demand for lining technologies.”

Delivering innovation through collaboration

With the award of an extra $3 million Cooperative Research Centre Projects (CRC-P) grant from the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, the project will see collaboration across the globe with 30 project partners.

Led by the Water Services Association of Australia (WSAA), a team of manufacturers, applicators, utilities and research organisations have partnered to provide a project with positive outcomes for SMEs, water industry and the Australian economy.

The participants include 11 Australian water utilities, 14 lining manufacturers and applicators, academic researchers across three Australian universities, the US-based Water Research Foundation (WRF), and United Kingdom Water Industry Research.

Manager – Networks at Sydney Water, Gary Hurley, said, “As the largest Australian water utility, we look forward to governing the project partnership, providing water industry leadership to the other ten Australian utility partners and the two international research partners representing the US and UK.

“Three Australian universities, Monash, University of Technology Sydney and Sydney University, will provide the research and work in collaboration with the lining industry partners to improve specifications, standards, products and services.

“Sydney Water has almost 50,000km of wastewater and water pipes in its network and this project will help to prolong the life of these assets, which will help to deliver an even more reliable water and wastewater service, and lessen  future customer disruption through reduced repairs and replacements.”

The research activities of the  project, running from March 2018  until the end of 2021, are designed  to improve the understanding  of product performance,  improve utility asset management and provide Australian SMEs and manufacturers with a globally competitive advantage through development of know-how, services, standards and smart tools.  

The project partners will solve the problem of limited knowledge of long-term liner performance and take advantage of the innovation opportunity to incorporate smart technologies by achieving these technical deliverables:

  • Develop industry standards and guidance documents
  • Perform analytical tests for validation and testing of lining
  • Field-test liners
  • Develop and test multi-sensor robot prototypes

The first of the field tests has recently begun with a smart liner installed by project participants Ventia and South East Water.

The month-long trial in Rowville, Victoria, sees the renewal of a redundant asbestos  cement water main using Aqua-Pipe CIPP liner, installing 1100m of DN 100 and DN 150 liner.

For this trial, a custom-made 88mm liner was developed for the Melbourne market to match the smaller asbestos pipes found in this region. The condition of the liner will continue to be monitored over the duration of the project.

The overall project is valued at more than $24 million, with funding provided by 26 diverse local and international partners across the water utility, construction materials and non-profit water research sectors, and is expected to position Australia as a global leader in smart water infrastructure design, engineering, testing and management.

The additional funding from the Cooperative Research Centre Projects program allows for industry-led collaboration for up to three years, to develop new technologies, products and services.

Charlotte Pordage is Editor of Utility magazine, a position she has held since November 2018. She joined the team as an Associate Editor in October 2017, after sharpening her writing and editing skills across a range of print and digital publications. Charlotte graduated from Royal Holloway, University of London, in 2011 with joint honours in English and Latin. When she's not putting together Australia's only dedicated utility magazine, she can usually be found riding her horse or curled up with a good book.

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