CA Energy Commission to vote on funding Berkeley Lab fiber optic cable projects

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The California Energy Commission, or CEC, will vote to fund two projects investigating the usefulness of fiber optic cables as scientific sensors for the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, or Berkeley Lab, on April 8, according to an email from CEC spokesperson Michael Ward.

For both projects, Berkeley Lab is working with UC Berkeley, and the members of its natural gas project are also collaborating with PG&E, Schlumberger and C-FER Technologies to carry out tests associated with the project.

While the projects each received a Notice of Proposed Award from the CEC, Ward said in an email that these awards are not final until they are presented to the five-person commission for a vote. If approved, Berkeley Lab will receive $2 million for its offshore wind project and $1.5 million for its natural gas project.

“A fiber cable has a glass core that allows you to send an optical signal down at the speed of light,” said Yuxin Wu, leader of both projects, in a press release. “When there is any vibration, strains, or stresses or changes in temperature of the material that is being monitored, that information will be carried in the light signal that is scattered back.”

Researchers at Berkeley Lab have already used fiber optic cables in carbon sequestration, groundwater mapping, earthquake detection and the monitoring of Arctic permafrost thaw, according to the press release.

Anticipated results for the offshore wind project include a significant cost reduction for the environmentally sustainable development of offshore wind projects in California, according to a fact sheet Berkeley Lab prepared for the CEC. According to the press release, the project also aims to learn more about marine mammals. The lab is currently looking for a partner to collaborate with to test the sensors in the ocean.

According to another fact sheet for the CEC from Berkeley Lab, the lab anticipates economic and environmental benefits from the natural gas project through the reduction of rising costs from natural gas borehole failures, which often have “catastrophic” human and environmental consequences. The fact sheet also states that the project could improve natural gas storage resiliency and reliability, minimizing potential methane leaks.

According to PG&E spokesperson Tamar Sarkissian, PG&E is working with Berkeley Lab, C-FER Technologies and Paulsson to validate the use of new technology to monitor underground natural gas storage wells with spot checks on a continuous basis.

“The technologies being developed and tested through this collaboration would help support our ongoing commitment to advance tools that help keep customers and our workforce safe and would mitigate some risk associated with the required inspections,” Sarkissian said in an email. “It would also provide a means to inspect parts of the well not accessible with current tools”

Contact Sabrina Dong at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sabrina_dong_.