Concern over EDF reactor faults

HazardEx, the UK journal covering industrial hazards and regulations worldwide, has published an interesting update on the state of the EPR nuclear reactor being built at Flamanville, in Normandy. Potential problems at this site are of as much concern to UK residents in Southern England, as will be the case over the future reactors of the same type planned for Hinkley Point in Somerset.

HazardEx says:

The French state electricity generator Electricité De France (EDF) has put the cost of repairing recently discovered flaws at the new EPR reactor being built at Flamanville in Normandy at Euro400 million ($468 million). This takes the total cost of the project to Euro10.9 billion, more than three times its original budget.

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The Flamanville plant – an EDF picture

EDF had previously warned that problems with welds at the reactor under construction in Flamanville were worse than first expected. The utility said on July 25 that out of the 148 inspected welds at the latest generation reactor, 33 had quality deficiencies and would need to be repaired.

The most recent projections envisaged the Flamanville 3 reactor loading nuclear fuel at the end of the fourth quarter of 2018, but EDF said this was now scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2019. The reactor was originally scheduled to come on stream in 2012.

Flamanville was the second EPR reactor to be constructed: the first was Olkiluoto in Finland, which has suffered comparable delays and cost overruns, and this is also now due to enter service in 2019.

This means that the first EPR to enter production will probably be at the Taishan nuclear plant in China. Work on Taishan 1 and 2 reactors has also suffered repeated delays, but not on the scale of the French and Finnish plants. At least one of the Chinese reactors is expected to be commissioned this year.

In the UK, there are currently plans to build two of these EPRs at Hinkley Point in Somerset. These reactors could be further delayed if the new problems at Flamanville are not easily resolved. The UK EPRs are already mired in political controversy over the high cost of the project.

ENDS

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Leaps in Technology, and the spin-off

Whilst pacemakers and other implants have become fairly commonplace in medical treatment systems, these still rely on battery technology, and have a limited life. When dealing with electrodes or sensor devices positioned carefully, sometimes deep in the body, a battery capsule is embedded under the skin, to enable future access for replacement. A new development project at MIT, to be more fully described at an August conference, describes a very small medical implant that can be powered and interrogated using radio frequency waves, even though it is deep within the body.

Medical devices that can be ingested or implanted in the body could offer doctors new ways to diagnose, monitor, and treat diseases. In their study, the researchers tested a prototype about the size of a grain of rice, but they anticipate that it could be made smaller. Giovanni Traverso, a research affiliate at MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, is now working on a variety of ingestible systems that can be used to deliver drugs, monitor vital signs, and detect movement of the GI tract.

In the brain, implantable electrodes that deliver an electrical current are used for deep brain stimulation, which is often used to treat Parkinson’s disease or epilepsy. Wireless brain implants could also help deliver light to stimulate or inhibit neuron activity through opto-genetics.

In animal tests the researchers have shown that the radio waves can power devices located 10cm deep in tissue from a distance of 1m. Until now, this has been difficult to achieve because radio waves tend to dissipate as they pass through the body. To overcome that, the researchers devised In Vivo Networking (IVN), a system that relies on an array of antennas that emit radio waves of slightly different frequencies. As the radio waves travel, they overlap and combine in different ways. At certain points, where the high points of the waves overlap, they can provide enough energy to power an implanted sensor.

Mobile phone developments

The ubiquitous mobile phone. In various past articles I have mentioned the spin-off effects of the technology behind telecommunications and the mobile phone being used to create new industrial sensors, relying on the research and the production capabilities for the devices required for the industry. These spin-offs include the rise of radar level measurement systems, the use of wireless in many industrial sensors, and also the availability of many laser diodes, used for interferometry, liquid analysis etc.

Another major development is that of the liquid lens, used in these same mobile phones. This gets really personal, as for the last 60 years I have been an avid aero-spotter, keenly watching light aircraft arrive at our local airport using a telescope to identify them. Then, on arrival at or near the airport, using long and heavy telephoto lenses to photograph them. Later, I collected antique telescopes, manufactured from 1780 to maybe 1850, as they were still really the best quality optical systems, despite modern (commercial) developments. Again, long and heavy things.

But along came the liquid lens. This is a very small lens device, now commonly used in iPads and mobile phones. The liquid droplet forming the lens has its shape changed electronically, using an electronic control system. This is able to change focal length (to focus) and change optical axis (for optical image stabilization, ie to reduce camera shake effects) – all within a few milliseconds.

The idea for this invention came from research on the phenomenon known as “Electro-wetting” by Professor Bruno Berge, in Lyon, France, with the original patents being issued in 2002. Prof Berge started working on liquid interfaces from 1991 at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Lyon. A drop of water affected by electro-wetting can function as a variable magnifying glass: so two clear, non-miscible liquids of the same density, one being electronically controlled water, can serve as a lens, depending on the curvature of the interface between them. The two liquids are sealed and held in a metal casing that is typically smaller than 10mm in diameter.

Berge first approached Canon cameras with the invention, but attracted no funding. So with French state funding, and investment fund backing, Berge founded the company VariOptic in 2002. In 2007 they established a production line in China, and in 2009 the first industrial barcode reader with a VariOptic lens appeared on the market. Machine vision manufacturer Cognex was an early adopter of the technology, for barcode ID readers.

A new module now available from IDS (Imaging Development Systems) is a single board USB interface camera, available for use with and control of liquid lenses. These low-cost uEye LE industrial cameras with twist-proof USB Type-C connection and practical USB power delivery are quoted as interesting for logistics systems (eg for package acceptance and sorting), for microscopy and traffic monitoring, as well as for installation in small medical or industrial devices.

So, I am still waiting for a lightweight long focal length telephoto ‘liquid’ lens for my Canon camera. Maybe not the telescope – for as I pointed out to Prof Berge, one of my favourite telescopes dating from the 1790s was made by Matthew Berge, his namesake!

The full story about the Prof Berge development of liquid lenses was first reported by me as the very first blog post on www.telescopecollector.co.uk, back in December 2013.

This article was first published in the South African journal of Instrumentation and Control issue of August 2018, published by technews.co.za

MVDC Power Transmission

Azeez Mohammed, president & CEO of the GE Power Conversion business discusses how MVDC technology is creating a more secure and higher-capacity grid for the future. Thanks to the MCDC technology, Scottish Power Energy Networks’ Angle DC project – first of its kind in Europe – will provide a 23% power capacity increase for supplies to Anglesey. Similar technology is being used in offshore wind applications, giving up to  15% cost savings.

Transforming Power Grids for an Efficient Future

With a fast-growing global population and increasing levels of industrialisation, demand for electricity is expected to soar 60% between now and 2040. That means power grids will be called on to transmit more power, more efficiently. And to do so, they’ll have to adapt to an evolving energy landscape.

Today’s grid is still structured around transmitting electricity from a handful of large, centralised power plants running on coal, oil, gas and nuclear. While these will continue to dominate the mix for years to come, renewables are increasingly making their presence felt – and are expected to supply a third of global power by 2040.

With renewables growth comes an increasingly diverse distribution network – from remote and offshore generation sites to microgrids. All must be brought together to ensure we continue to have a reliable, resilient power supply. The challenge now is that the majority of power grids are made up of decades-old infrastructure that’s simply not – yet – up to the task.

Laying the foundations

Creating a future-proof power grid means fusing time-honoured knowledge with forward-thinking technology. For over 100 years, GE electrical engineers have recognised that DC electricity transmission is more efficient than AC. Now, DC is becoming more prominent – both at the beginning and end of the grid. DC is produced by wind turbines and solar PV and used by everything from smartphones, laptops and electric cars to the data centres that keep our digital world up and running. However, having to convert back and forth between AC and DC along the way leads to wasted energy through resistance and heat.

AC may have won the “War of the Currents” that raged between the Edison Electric Company (which favoured DC and would become General Electric) and Westinghouse (which favoured AC) in the 1890s. This was due to its ability to easily step up voltages to the higher levels needed to transmit it over long distances and back down again for safe usage. But today, new power conversion and transmission technology means it is becoming more cost-effective to use DC to transmit at higher voltages, with less energy losses. The same attractive cost story applies when it comes to integrating new, often remote, DC-producing renewables into the wider grid network.

At the GE Power Conversion business, we’re developing the use of DC to enable more efficient power transmission to and from remote areas – both onshore and offshore.

Strengthening the Anglesey power supply

At the GE Power Conversion business, we are delivering Europe’s very first medium-voltage direct current (MVDC) link as part of the Scottish Power Energy Network Angle DC project in Anglesey and surrounding North Wales area. A growing demand for electricity in the region, combined with increasing volumes of renewable generation, is putting the existing 33-kilovolt AC links between the isle of Anglesey and the Welsh mainland under strain.

Converting the existing AC connection to MVDC could help it to carry more than twice the power and do so more efficiently. GE MVDC technology is providing a critical project asset, as it allows for the creation of a more-secure, higher-capacity grid without the need to overhaul existing infrastructure or install new power distribution assets.

Instead, GE will install MVDC power modules at the two existing substations in Bangor and Llanfair PG, where the AC to DC conversion will be performed. GE MV7000 power electronic inverters will transmit the power via the existing 33-kilovolt AC overhead line and cable circuit, increasing the power available to Anglesey by 23% to meet its future needs without additional environmental impact. What’s more, the DC equipment will assist in the provision of further grid support, as the inverters are able to support the AC voltage at each substation.

This MVDC technology works in much the same way as our high-voltage direct current (HVDC) projects, but on a smaller and simpler scale. For example, a comparable HVDC system would operate at 320-400 kilovolts DC, whereas the Angle DC project will operate at 27 kilovolts DC—demonstrating how this technology can be scaled to fit a variety of customer needs.

Lowering the cost of offshore power

From wind turbines stationed far out at sea to solar farms in inhospitable deserts, renewable generation networks are often found in hard-to-reach places. Getting the power generated to a centralised grid via AC can waste energy and keep renewable electricity costs higher than they need to be.

Now, similar technology behind the MV7000 converters used for Angle DC has also been successfully trialed for use in remote power networks. Our PassiveBoost solution will enable DC power transmission, opening up the potential to boost electrical output from these remote sites while also reducing power costs.

PassiveBoost is an MVDC converter which provides a straight replacement, with the same footprint and volume, for the AC transformer inside every wind turbine. This helps to facilitate a direct connection to an efficient MVDC power collection grid, resulting in a lower cable cost and no need for an expensive and complex DC breaker. A 6 megavolt-ampere converter was designed and tested at the GE power test facility in the UK. There, it successfully demonstrated the capability of generation, distribution and protection at MVDC, highlighting efficiency levels that could bring a 15% cost saving for offshore wind electricity by significant reductions in component count, cabling costs and removal of need for offshore platforms.

Greater grid control through data-driven insights

To drive further efficiency across the power grid, GE can also offer VISOR 2.0, an asset management tool that provides remote connectivity to key assets. This not only enables an improved service response time, but also access to real-time support and advice in the event of a fault or problem. By pairing this tool with the GE Data Historian, which collects, processes and stores data, customers can more easily review the capabilities of their MVDC system. Its ability to capture and analyse data about asset performance means customers can then develop optimum control algorithms for the distribution system, helping to ensure the grid is always functioning as effectively as possible.

As electrification within all industries gathers pace and the burden on existing energy distribution networks increases, we’re ready to put our expertise into action where it’s most needed.

 

Technology disruption, and profiting from university R&D

It is almost a part of engineering folklore that the UK is slow to realise the potential of its inventions. The jet engine, computing and television are perhaps the best-known examples of British inventions whose financial benefits were mainly exploited by other nations. Lithium-ion technology is another that was developed in Britain, in fact in Oxford, but was commercialised mainly in the US and East Asia. However, this was not a failure of foresight but merely a misfortune of timing – the initial invention came many years before the development of mobile phones and camcorders which were the most fruitful early applications for lithium-ion batteries.

The Faraday Institution was then set up as the UK’s independent centre for electrochemical energy storage science and technology, supporting research, training, and analysis. Its function is to bring together expertise from universities and industry, and they are attempting to make the UK the go-to place for the research, development, manufacture and production of new electrical storage technologies for both the automotive and the wider relevant sectors.

Accelerated technology development

Building on this general approach, the Royal Academy of Engineering has now established a scheme as part of the UK Government National Productivity Investment Fund, to accelerate the development and commercialisation of other emerging technologies within the UK. This will involve the establishment of 10 new University ‘Chairs in Emerging Technologies’ at UK universities: this scheme will identify research and innovation visionaries and provides them with long-term support to enable them to build a global centre of excellence focused on emerging technologies with high potential to deliver economic and social benefit. This type of public investment has been seen to be highly effective in stimulating co-investment from the private sector, enabling the UK to secure an early foothold in a potentially important future market and preventing UK companies from losing their competitive advantage as other countries get involved.

The UK magazine ‘The Engineer’ explained both the diversity of technologies and disciplines represented among the chairs selected and the breadth of societal challenges and economic opportunities that have motivated the world-leading engineers appointed, as follows:

  • One chair focuses on technologies with strong medical applications. It has the objective to deliver a step change in personalised medicine by engineering cells that can combine precise disease diagnosis with therapeutic intervention in a closed loop circuit – to prevent the disease developing or provide a cure. This is sometimes called ‘theranostics’.
  • Another focuses on reducing the burden of brain disorders. The goal of the chair is to accelerate the translation of therapeutic bioelectronic systems – for example a ‘brain pacemaker’ – from laboratory to industry.

Artificial intelligence, robotics and materials science, AI and robotics also had strong representation among the chairs selected. For example, one chair addresses the technologies underpinning soft robotics, which have the potential to impact upon many areas of our lives, from implantable medical devices that restore function after cancer or stroke, to wearable soft robotics that will keep us mobile in our old age – plus biodegradable robots that can combat pollution and monitor the environment.

Other chairs address issues of safety and reliability associated with AI and robotic systems – a topic of great societal importance and current interest. Two other chairs focus on driving improvements in materials that underpin important industrial and societal applications. One will develop novel interactive technologies using acoustic metamaterials; another is targeted at the optimisation of next generation battery materials for improved cost, performance and durability.

Others of the chairs draw upon recent advances in the physical sciences to address novel areas. They include radical new space technologies that will underpin entirely new satellite applications; an integrated approach to two-dimensional classical and quantum photonics; and a platform for multiscale industrial design, from the level of molecules to machines.

The CET scheme steering group were deeply impressed by the quality of the applications for these chairs that they reviewed, which bodes well for the UK’s ability to continue to be at the leading edge of technology disruption. Nevertheless, it is notoriously difficult to forecast which technologies will turn out to have the most significant impacts over the long term. It would appear that the major problem will be to attract long-term technology investment from UK companies, who are notoriously short term in their views on financial payback and investment decisions.

This article was featured in the June 2018 edition of the journal South African Instrumentation and Control, published by technews.co.za

The European Scene

The German organisation Profibus & Profinet International (PI) publishes annual statistics on the numbers of devices installed with interfaces equipped with their communication technologies, which also include ProfiSafe and IO-Link. The trend towards Profinet increased in 2017, with 4.5 million new nodes installed, an increase of 25% on the previous year figure, which brings the total number installed to 21 million. Possibly because of the rise in Profinet systems, the Profibus DP numbers added seem to have reached a plateau over recent years, with a population of 60 million.

Profibus PA and ProfiSafe node numbers are growing strongly in the process automation field, with the ProfiSafe adoption growing 25% in the year, adding 2m nodes to reach 9 million in total. Similarly IO-Link device numbers installed in the year increased 50%, adding 2.8m to achieve a population of 8.1 million, linking sensors and actuators to a PLC as a subsidiary network below the fieldbus/Profinet level. PI recently published an IO-Link wireless specification, and demonstrated the technology at the Hanover Trade Show earlier this year.

Government Interferences

Legislative rulings have affected businesses and consumers across the EU recently, with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) causing avalanches of email asking for a subscriber’s permission to be re-registered with every firm they have ever dealt with, to allow them to record the fact. Even companies from outside the EU will face financial penalties, if they send out emailed newsletters or promotional messages into EU subscribers, without having these permissions confirmed, registered and recorded!

In the USA, the EPA, under the Trump administration, has dropped most of the more Draconian measures that they had originally proposed to impose on chemical plants, after the explosion at West Fertilizers in Texas that killed 15 fire-fighters and injured 260 people. The CSB report on the incident also listed 19 other Texas facilities that store large amounts of Ammonium Nitrate fertiliser, and are located within half a mile of a school, hospital or nursing home. One regulation that will be introduced in Texas is that local fire marshals will inspect all sites storing ammonium nitrate, once a year. Hopefully this might help prevent any further explosions that might result in large off- site consequences.

The changes that were proposed by the EPA and that will not now be introduced include (1) the need to evaluate options for safer technology and procedures that would mitigate hazards; (2) the requirement to conduct a root-cause analysis after a catastrophic chemical release or potential release incident; and (3) performing a third-party compliance audit after an accident at a plant involving the release or potential release of chemicals.

In the UK, Barclays Bank, rather than the Government, is reassuring UK exporters worried about Brexit and trading afterwards, with a survey that shows 39% of International customers would be more inclined to buy a product if it displayed the Union Jack. This was especially true for consumers in Asia and the Middle East (India, 67%; UAE, 62%; China, 61%), and also for younger consumers generally, where nearly half said this would encourage them to make a purchase. For over 55 year olds (who maybe had more life experience) the figure dropped to a quarter. It’s all statistics!)

Research projects

Splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen was first demonstrated by Fujishima and Honda using a titanium dioxide electrode. Since then, scientists have been on the hunt for the ideal material to perform the task, as Hydrogen is a very useful, green fuel for portable power. Now, a team from Exeter University has made a significant hydrogen energy breakthrough, developing an electrode that splits water using only light. The photo-electrode, which is made from nanoparticles of lanthanum, iron and oxygen, absorbs light before initialising electrochemical transformations to extract hydrogen from water. The team is currently working on further improving this material to
make it more efficient, to produce more hydrogen.

At the Drives & Controls Exhibition in the UK this year all the motor manufacturers were showing the condition monitoring capabilities of their offering, usually measured by vibration monitoring sensors. Possibly ABB went one step further, showing a sensor assembly that can be attached to almost any low-voltage motor, existing or on a new project. Transmitting information over Bluetooth, the sensors require no wiring, and are attached directly to the motor’s frame. Within the unit, sensors collect vital data points like vibration, sound and temperature, and upload that information via an ABB gateway or Smartphone to the cloud, where it is analysed. The results are sent back for optimising performance and predictive maintenance, just like a roving maintenance engineer!

This article was written for the July issue of the South African Journal of Instrumentation and Control, published by technews.co.za

Wave energy – UK and South Africa

wave energyBoth the UK and South Africa have the potential for harvesting green energy from the surrounding sea, from ocean or tidal flows, or from wave energy. Some 15 years ago, when the UK Government was keen to encourage and invest in green energy technologies, the European Marine Energy Technology Centre (EMEC) was established in the Orkney Islands, off the north coast of Scotland. The EMEC is the only centre of its kind in the world: it exists to provide developers of both wave and tidal energy converters – technologies that generate electricity by harnessing the power of waves and tidal streams – with purpose-built, accredited open-sea testing facilities. Initial funding of GBP34m came from the UK and Scottish Governments, the Carbon Trust, the European Union and several Scottish local agencies and councils. By 2011 the EMEC had become self-sufficient, by selling its consultancy and site evaluation and testing services to would-be suppliers.

As an aside, becoming self-sufficient was probably very opportune in 2011, as other UK Government financed initiatives and incentives for green technologies, like the Carbon Capture and Storage demonstration project, and financial incentives for wind farms, were switched off very fast as harsh financial strictures were imposed on Government spending. Currently, the CCS demo project in Canada, supported by its national and local Government, Shell Research, and local industry, is performing better than the project expectations.

South African research

According to Professor Wikus van Niekerk, from the Stellenbosch University Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies (CRSES), while South Africa has some limited potential for harnessing tidal current energy, particularly at the Knysna Heads and the Langebaan Lagoon, the country’s most promising renewable ocean energy potential lies in ocean currents and waves.

From the technology aspect, wave energy appears to offer the most potential in South Africa. CRSES research shows the Western Cape has the highest wave power generation potential, and a few wave energy projects have been tried. Indeed Stellenbosch University developed the Stellenbosch Wave Energy Converter (SWEC) in the 1980s. As recently as 2015 it appeared the cost of wave energy generation was significantly higher than the solar PV or wind turbine techniques, but cost and technology changes rapidly!

New wave energy devices

Now on test in the Orkneys with EMEC is a 50% scale model of the new Swedish design of the Wave Energy Converter, the C3 from CorPower Ocean. This unit resembles a large ‘skittle’, or long necked bottle. Under test at EMEC since January 2018, the C3 WEC will be connected to a floating Microgrid unit, which is designed to allow the C3 device to behave as if it were grid connected by providing a stable voltage and frequency reference, simulating the impedance of a typical grid connection, absorbing power from the device under test and providing power to auxiliary systems.

This style of the WEC would be aimed at providing off-grid operations to power islands, offshore installations or remote coastal locations, all around the world. Another unit previously tested by the EMEC is the Wello Penguin, designed in Finland. Wello has received its first order for a commercial wave energy park, to be installed next to Nusa Penida Island in Bali, Indonesia: it will be the largest wave energy park globally, with planned delivery at the end of 2018. Power output is 20 MW, using multiple Penguin generators.

The Wello Penguin floats on water and captures kinetic energy from the waves, which is then turned into electrical power. It is an asymmetrical ship, and a 600 kW unit would be 220 tonnes typically, 30 m long and 16 m wide, anchored to the ocean floor. It utilises the same components that are already in use in wind turbines, and is easily constructed in a shipyard, meaning the Penguin is cost competitive compared to offshore wind energy. The roll of the Penguin spins the rotator inside the device, directing the energy from the waves. This rotation drives the generator – it does not have any moving parts in contact with sea water, so the service needs are minimal. In relation to comparative costs, the CEO of Wello, Heikki Paakkinen, said “The cost of energy generated with Wello Penguin is already very competitive compared to offshore wind energy, and in serial production we aim for a further 50% cost reduction.”

wello penguin

In 2015, Blackbird International, in collaboration with WERPO, announced plans to develop a 500 MW wave energy power plant in South Africa. The original wave energy system designed by WERPO, from Israel, uses an anchored float normally installed on wave breakers or sea walls, which rises and falls with wave action.

This article was written for and originally published in the April issue of the South African Instrumentation and Control Journal, published by technews.co.za in South Africa.

Process plant safety hazards – and sensors

The following summary of recent hazardous events was the subject of my column in the May 2018 issue of the South African Instrumentation and Control journal, published by technews.co.za . See the whole issue here.

This March saw the North of Europe suffer with the ‘Beast from the East’, with freezing Siberian wind and rain, plus snow – even in the South of the UK. The high winds brought an unexpected benefit: the power generated by the many UK wind turbines reached 14GW, or 34% of the UK power demand, during several periods. The wind power capacity installed feeding the UK grid is now 19GW, the third highest in Europe: Germany has 56GW, and Spain 23GW.

Cyber attacks in the Middle East

The major concerns for Saudi Arabia are the continuing cyber-attacks.  More information is emerging about the Triton malware attack, reported in this column in February. The latest news, published on the Cyberscoop and CyberArk websites, suggest the Triton attacks failed because of a ‘flaw in the coding of the malware’. Because of the sophisticated nature of the malware, and because many of the coding indicators have not been seen before, or used by any known hacking group, the conclusion is still that extensive resources were involved in creating and testing Triton, which could only have been provided by a nation state actor. Saudi Aramco assisted in the investigations, but say the plant attacked by this virus was not a part of their operations. Triton is confirmed to be specifically targeting the Triconex safety override systems, in an overt attempt to cause catastrophic damage. The Schneider Triconex controllers are used in about 18,000 plants around the world, including nuclear and water treatment facilities, oil and gas refineries, and chemical plants. The reports also revealed that attacks in Saudi Arabia using the Shamoon virus have continued, with Sadara Chemicals and the Saudi National Industrialisation Company (Tasnee) both being attacked last year.

USA, the CSB, and Russian hackers

In the USA, the impression is that major plant incidents fall into three main categories: dust explosions, maintenance welding errors and transport pipeline fractures……

[But here it is necessary to update this “impression” after the later announcement from the US administration  – the Dept of Homeland Security recently reported that Russian hackers had been observed on machines (computers) with access to critical control systems at power plants (both nuclear and conventional). American agencies have been aware of these intrusions/attacks for the past 18 months, and they have screenshots showing the hackers had the foothold needed to manipulate or shut down power plants – both in the US and in Europe, it seems….. Plus it is also linked to the suspected Presidential election meddling.] Returning, however, to dust explosions and welding errors….

The US ten year average for grain dust explosions is 9.3, so actually 2017 was below average with only seven explosions and five fatalities in the USA. The number is steadily declining, as better training and housekeeping take effect, and with the wider use of dust explosion venting and suppression systems.

It is my personal impression that maintenance welding errors seem to be a major cause of the plant and tank explosions reported in the USA, firstly during maintenance under hot work permits, but also in plant changes, when working on tanks where flammable materials were previously stored. Despite this apparent laxity in grain handling and petrochemical plant operations, the US has a world leading accident investigation organisation, the Chemical Safety (and Hazard Investigation) Board. The CSB was established in 1998, and produces brilliant accident analysis reports, covering small hazardous events up to major disasters. They are the people that are responsible for detailing the causes of the major BP Texas City refinery explosions in 2005, and the Macondo blowout in 2010, both of which caused major loss of life. The CSB can only make recommendations for legislative changes, which then have to be considered by OHSA and US State legislative bodies. Perhaps typically, President Trump promised to abolish the CSB when he came to office last March, presumably thinking it was a barrier to free enterprise etc, but thankfully he seems to have changed his mind!

Developments in Sensors

Returning to sensors, and the current development trends, it seems there is no specific focus for developments currently. Perhaps because of the US accidents with pipeline leaks and fractures, there is considerable attention being paid to corrosion and crack monitoring, but the development of point sensors seems to not be relevant for long pipelines. At the University of California San Diego, a new ultrasonic sensor array has been built onto a flat silicone elastomer sheet, which can be wrapped round bends and corners that otherwise are difficult to inspect with flat probes. Initial applications are seen on structural steel in bridges, or for aircraft engine supports.

In Europe, ACHEMA has launched their brochures in advance of the 11-15 June expo in Frankfurt: the last event was in 2015. Focussed on process engineering for chemicals, pharmaceuticals and petrochem, maybe ACHEMA will show the future routes of sensor development – notably however, cyber-security and safety from hazards are not major topics in their agenda!