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GDF Suez Tries RFID Underground
The multinational energy firm is testing a system that employs passive RFID tags to enable the detection of subterranean polyethylene utility pipes.
Next, Berger says, the group needed to test the system in order to determine whether the tags could be read through a variety of materials, including ground saturated with water. In 2009, the team tested some tagged pipes in the ground at a CEA site in the French Alps, with a tag glued to a pipe's exterior. The test consisted of simply reading the tags and discerning their location, but not writing to them. "The results were quite good," he states.
Testing is now underway at a GDF Suez site near Paris.
"In our company, we own a grid for distribution of natural gas," Florette says, "and it's important for us to improve the localization of pipes... The need we have is for technology that would fit all sizes of pipes, economically." The technology, he notes, would be built into new pipes and could be retrofitted onto (attached to the exterior of) existing pipes. GDF Suez maintains pipelines throughout Europe, as well as in Mexico, Argentina, Peru and Thailand; the system's installation would most likely take place in Europe.
GDF Suez's management goal is to adopt a technological solution for identifying plastic pipes underground that would not require additional labor on the part of line workers. For example, the company envisions employees walking along the grid while carrying a handheld RFID reader that would work so quickly that they could identify exactly where the pipes were laid without requiring workers to pause or slow their pace in order to obtain a reading. Thus far, Florette says, the tags are being read at a rate of approximately 90 percent.
Upon the pilot's completion, RYB will determine its success and then prepare the commercialization of the ELIOT product at the end of 2011. In the meantime, GDF Suez will study the results of the pilot. "The decision for use of the technology will be taken when we've fully assessed the results of the pilot," Florette states, though he already has a high regard for RFID. "There is no technology as good as this one."
By the end of this year, RYB expects to be able to provide RFID marker tags that can be installed on existing pipes. RFID-enabled RYB pipes with built-in tags are anticipated to follow.
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