Research & Development: Technology Improvements

R&D Menu

Technology development through R&D is a critical factor in expanding most if not all economic sectors of the United States and the world. From new technologies, public utilities have become more efficient and reliable, new medicines and medical equipment have increased cure rates and life expectancy, and automobiles are designed for greater safety. Many of these statements can be made for the oil and gas industry and pipelines as well. Technology advances are making it possible for the oil and gas industry to grow in tandem with the nation’s energy needs while maintaining a cleaner environment.1

The PHMSA Pipeline Safety R&D Program is fostering development of new technologies so that pipeline operators can improve safety performance and more effectively address regulatory requirements. Technology development is expensive, slow, riddled with setbacks. Research programs must divert significant resources in time, process development and implementation with end users to get it right.

Sad but true, successful R&D rarely results in successful technology transfer. A technology analyst and author Robert Cooper cites studies indicating that only about 55 to 65 percent of new products succeed after market launch. The attrition rate of technologies in earlier stages of R&D is even greater. He cites reports that “for every seven new product ideas, about four enter development and only 1 succeeds.” These statistics are for companies launching their own products of R&D2. The record of products involving a handoff between organizations, say government contractor to manufacturer, is far worse. PHMSA believes following these three rules of thumb can improve the chances of success.

Rule No. 1—Plan for technology transfer from day one.
Rule No. 2—Involve end users (i.e. pipeline operators and regulators) from day one.
Rule No. 3—Integrate potential service providers into the plan as soon as possible.

Technology development should be transparent to potential end users. This begins in the pre-solicitation phase at R&D Forums sponsored by PHMSA and the pipeline industry. Consensus at these events aligns technology needs with threats and integrates end users into the design of required research milestones. At the pre-award review, diverse sets of end users evaluate project merits and further refine and align technology needs with identified threats. After award, contractual milestones enable PHMSA to assess technology development via a go or no-go approach with its partners. Each quarter projects are evaluated or adjusted to address advances or set backs and move the work along a logical path from proof of concept to a pre-commercial technology.

PHMSA believes it’s important to convey and articulate the technology story from proof of concept to commercialization. Illustrating where public funds are initially applied in the development and when they are no longer appropriate is very important for a transparent program. PHMSA’s program is short term meaning one to three years for deploying solutions. Some technology research has taken as much as five years to commercialize. Technology research investigating proof of concept is completed before PHMSA and its partners invest in deployable solutions. Figure 1 illustrates this discussion and highlights the technology readiness level based on seven logical steps and split between two different phases.


Technology demonstrations are specifically designed to ensure research projects develop technologies that work under field conditions. PHMSA uses demonstrations to validate the engineering approaches utilized during the research scope for ultimate use in the field. Once the majority of the laboratory develop and testing is completed, demonstrations are held and can begin on a test rig (pipe in a warehouse) then progress to a test bed (pipe buried in the ground) and finally reach the field test stage where the technology is applied to a real operational pipeline. Several research projects awarded by PHMSA factor demonstrations as part of project scopes.

Demonstrations are carried out with a detailed demonstration test plan having strong input from both an industry advisory board and the demonstration test participants. Researchers under contract with PHMSA developing technology hold several informal demonstrations throughout the work scope of projects. These informal demonstrations increase the readiness level of technology to a point where formal demonstrations are planned with multiple government and pipeline stakeholders collaborating. PHMSA conducts formal events on a periodic, not annual, basis.

1 American Petroleum Institute. "State-of-the-Art Technology has Transformed the Oil and Natural Gas Industry". 2001.
2 Robert G. Cooper. "Winning at New Products: Accelerating the Process from Idea to Launch". Cambridge: Perseus Publishing, 2001.

PHMSA is coordinating with our researchers, end users and known commercial vendors to commercialize technology and measure its impact. The following section documents program progress and our collaborative success since 2002.

Program Status: Technology Impacts

Program Status: Technology Impacts
Technology Impact Metric Metric Meter
Technology Projects 131
Technology Demonstrations 78
Patent Applications (U.S. + Other) 34
Patents Granted (U.S. + Other) 22
Commercialized TechnologiesA 35
Commercialization Success RateA 30%  
  1. The measurement of "Commercialized Technologies" only occurs on non-active or completed projects.
Programmatic Element & Technology Research Impact
Category Technology Projects Technology Demonstrations Patent Applications (U.S. + Other) Patents Granted (U.S. + Other) Commercialized TechnologiesA PHMSA ($M)
Threat Prevention 30 18 4 3 6 $14.96M
Leak Detection 17 11 2 1 6 $ 9.34M
Anomaly Detection 45 34 24 14 17 $31.28M
Anomaly Characterization 9 3     1 $ 4.32M
Anomaly Repair 1 1       $ 0.99M
Pipe Remediation/Rehabilitation 1         $ 0.91M
Materials 11 1 2 2 1 $12.28M
Welding 7 5     2 $ 4.92M
Joining 3 2 1 1   $ 1.35M
Alternative Fuels 3 2 1 1 2 $ 1.09M
Underground Natural Gas Storage 4 1       $ 2.39M
Grand Totals:131 78 34 22 35 $83.90M
  1. Note: The measurement of "Commercialized Technologies" only occurs on non-active or completed projects.