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NASA Turns to Trenchless to Restore Cooling Tower Pipelines

Pipelines serve an incredible purpose. Some say our highways are the arteries of this country, but one could argue that our extensive pipeline system consisting of millions of miles of pipelines transporting vital resources such as water, sewage, oil, natural gas is the true arterial system driving this everyone and everything forward.

To keep up with the demands of population expansion and a growing economy, it is paramount to ensure these pipelines have the strength and resiliency to meet future needs, but it starts with the technology-enabled solutions available today.

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The path toward achieving resilient infrastructure can vary, and many municipalities and engineers evaluate the pros and cons of each path to determine the best fit solution. Several decades ago, traditional open-cut replacement was often the only option during a time when the U.S. population was far smaller, the amount of buried infrastructure was far fewer, and environmental considerations seem to not be a high priority.

Fast forward to today. Owners and engineers are faced with ever growing challenge of balancing quality, time, and budget when tackling their aging infrastructure. Thankfully, the underground infrastructure industry has developed innovative and cost-effective methods – along with cutting-edge technology – to address the need to restore failing infrastructure and add significant service life for pipelines to serve generations to come…even for the more challenging larger diameter pipelines.

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Challenge with Large Diameter and Available Options

Addressing our aging infrastructure alone is a challenging feat in and of itself but when it comes to larger diameter pipelines, the challenges appear to grow exponentially. The level of service vs. the risk of consequence seems more daunting when dealing with larger pipelines. Failures from these pipelines make bigger news, cause more disruption, and impact a larger group of people in the community. Additionally, the cost to repair and replace larger pipelines is much greater than its smaller diameter counterpart. Providing improved tools for addressing these larger diameter pipelines is a critical aspect of the trenchless industry’s mission. In previous years, the availability of more cost-effective renewal solutions has been harder to come by for larger diameters with higher operating conditions making traditional open cut replacement or even isolated spot repairs more attainable, even within the confines of water treatment plants and other facilities with limited space and conflicting buried infrastructure.

Upon closer examination within facility constraints, the general benefits of “fewer trenches” becomes clearer, and the owners of these facilities find commonality with their municipal owner counterparts. Furthermore, these facilities are usually performing work throughout the campus during strict shutdown periods that require the utmost attention to planning, project management and procedural details for executing the work efficiently while maintaining quality and safety.

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Before and after of the CIPP Installation.
Before and after of the CIPP Installation.

NASA Looks to Trenchless

Starting in 2022, the NASA John Glenn Facility Research outside of Cleveland, Ohio, which is home to more than 3,000 employees, embarked on a challenging project to fully restore the cooling tower piping system that supports innovative research for NASA.

This piping system consisted of higher operating pressures, wide range of pipe sizes, high-flow capacity, multiple connections, and other buried utility conflicts. The operating pressure of the entire system was between 75 and 90 psi. Through early feasibility studies, facility leaders determined that incorporating trenchless technologies to key portions of the project would be the best fit solution to address their aging infrastructure and result in a new 50-plus year design service life to support the facility’s innovative research.

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General contractor Insituform Technologies and other subcontractors were up against a monumental task to restore hundreds of feet of pipeline within a short time frame, including system shutdown, dewatering, cleaning, replacement and rehabilitation, commissioning and restoration.

The schedule’s critical path was heavily dependent on the success and timely execution of the pressure rated cured-in-place pipe (CIPP) scope but, with the short timeline, it seemed like every aspect of the project was on the critical path. It was vital for the rehabilitation scope to be performed flawlessly.

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Using technology-enabled solutions, Insituform Technologies was tasked with the installation of 1,000 lf of 48-in. pressure rated CIPP for the facility’s cooling water transmission pipeline and twin, 20-in. lines branching from the main transmission main. There were several tee connections reinstated along the way, some of which were housed inside large concrete vault structures. After the CIPP curing process, the CIPP liners were successfully pressure tested to 90 psi, according to ASTM F1216, achieving a key project milestone.

Although to an untrained eye this project seemed like any regular CIPP installation, behind the familiar silhouette of the CIPP operation was something different than in previous years. That difference was the effective communication coupled with the state-of-the-art advancements with the design, manufacturing, and installation of large diameter CIPP that resulted in the successful project completion within the strict shut down period with added confidence by the owner for the long-term solution.

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Conclusion

As we look to the future, the advancements through design, manufacturing, and installation techniques are lending itself to the availability of better solutions to fit the unique challenges of many owners and municipalities for their larger pipelines with higher operating conditions. Many of these pipelines carry a higher risk of consequence from the ongoing deterioration which warrants a more robust solution. The advancements within the trenchless industry are allowing owners and municipalities better tools to address their aging infrastructure.

When evaluating the available solutions for aging infrastructure, the solution extends to more than just the material itself going in the ground, it includes the team responsible for installation the material that will be in the ground for the next 50 plus years for a resilient future.

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Steve Soldati, P.E., is with Aegion Corp.

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