A Better Way to Handle Gas Leaks in the Ground

April 19, 2018


Project Title: Shallow Ground Natural Gas Aeration Improvement

Team 17045 Members:
Ali Amailou, mechanical engineering
Jamaal Jackson Ferguson, electrical and computer engineering
Nolan Nguyen, mechanical engineering
Erica Rao, mechanical engineering
Christopher Summersgill, mechanical engineering

Sponsor: Southwest Gas

Extracting Hazardous Gas Leaks From Soil

When natural gas pipes leak, Southwest Gas personnel remove the gas from the ground using a process called aeration, which involves creating a vacuum above ground that draws the gas out of the soil and ejects it into the atmosphere.

“When natural gas saturates the ground after a leak, it’s hanging out down there where it could be potentially hazardous,” said Josh Spivey, supervisor of construction at Southwest Gas and one of the sponsor mentors for the project, along with Dominique Mitchell and Philip Ciuffetelli. “But once it’s aerated out of the ground, it just dissipates because being lighter than air is one of the safety features of natural gas.”

A Cheaper, Quieter and More Efficient Solution

Team 17045 has been tasked with creating a cheaper, quieter and more efficient device for natural gas aeration. The team’s objective was to make the new model 10 percent more efficient. First, they ran a test of the existing model to determine its efficiency levels and establish a baseline of performance. Then they took measurements of the device’s pieces to render a 3-D computer model in SolidWorks and run a flow simulation. Once the results of their model were sufficiently close to the results of the real-world machine, they adjusted variables such as the size and shape of the chamber until the model was running with maximum efficiency. They made further adjustments to accommodate manufacturing needs.

“We wanted to make as many of the pipes and tubes as we could just purchasable online,” said student team leader Erica Rao. “Southwest Gas wants to be able to buy off-the-shelf components as much as possible.”

Mentors Bring UA Education, Real-World Experience

The team’s three mentors are all UA graduates themselves, and were eager for the chance to mentor students on this project.

“It’s a great project for the senior design team, but it’s also a great product we can actually use,” Mitchell said. “It’s about trying to do something quickly but safely to remove the gas from the ground.”

The students said they benefit from the advice of fellow engineers, whether it’s about the basics of welding or how to work with air traveling at supersonic speeds. But their mentors are proud to say that this really is a student-run project, with the mentors there only for guidance.

“The students are there to solve the project for us. They have skill sets and resources that we don’t have at Southwest Gas,” Spivey said. “It could be used across our entire company, pending the right results.”

Team 17045’s project will be on display at the College of Engineering’s 2018 Design Day on April 30.

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