Innovative Thinking: Engineering Pipelines to Resist Mother Nature’s Wrath

Fault Rupture Pipeline

Fault rupture test at Cornell University. Photo credit: Robert Barker, Cornell University

As North Carolinians are well aware, we’re currently in the season of natural disasters – namely hurricanes – that wreak havoc on both human life and the infrastructures we’ve developed.

Recently, Innovative Thinking has been focusing on Mother Nature’s role in engineering. Last week we took a look at how  indestructible bridges are being created using design principles  mimicking nature’s laws. Also, MAEC’s Scott Brookhart, PE, CFM, wrote a blog regarding  thoughts on the infrastructure surrounding the management of storm water runoff, one of the many outcomes of Mother Nature’s storm systems.

Now, in timely fashion for today’s blog, researchers at Cornell University may have discovered an earthquake-resilient pipeline that can better protect water utility networks from natural disasters, most notably for west coast inhabitants, but with potentially far-reaching implications.

In an article by Daryl Lovell titled “Earthquake-resilient pipeline could shake up future for again infrastructure on west coast” on July 26, 2016, The Cornell researchers

…ran multiple tests, including an earthquake simulation in which a 28-foot-long section of the pipe was outfitted with more than 120 monitoring instruments and buried within 80 tons of soil…

The test mimicked a fault rupture that can occur during an earthquake when global plates begin to slip past each other, causing the ground to shift and deform. A large, hydraulically powered “split box” imposed 2 feet of fault rupture along a 50-degree angle, forcing the buried pipeline into a combination of compression and bending.

The steel pipe, developed by JFE Holdings in Japan, uses a unique structural wave design to control buckling, allowing the pipe to bend and compress without rupturing or losing water pressure. The wave features are installed at key locations along the pipeline to absorb large ground deformation, such as movements imposed by earthquakes and landslides or from undermining associated with scour during hurricanes and floods.

Where ever you may live, this is a development worth keeping an eye on as you keep an eye-to-the-sky and an ear-to-the-ground.