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Clear blue-sky view from inside the pipe

TECHNOLGY developed by the Water Corporation as a means to work within budgetary constraints could turn into a WA export bonanza.

The technology and research division at the Water Corporation has been using machines which are able to refurbish pipelines at only 20 per cent of the cost of normal replacement practices.

Replacing pipelines can cost as much as $500 a metre, so the refurbishment option provides significant savings.

But restraining the export potential of this development is the agency’s commercial inexperience. Recognising this, the Corporation is engaging the private sector to take the technology to the world.

The machines were developed primarily for the 100-year old Kalgoorlie Pipeline, which was starting to break up, putting at risk the Water Corporation’s ability to continue to supply the Goldfields region.

The remote-controlled machines are able to go down the pipe up to five kilometres from the point of entry – all without a need to stop the water flow.

It identifies weak spots in the pipe, removes lining and debris, and relines the pipe.

Water Corporation technology business development manager

and developer of the technology, Steve Brown, said the compact machines used about 500 horsepower to complete the task.

While the machines have been used by the Water Corporation for the past four years, a study undertaken by MBA Students at the University of WA has fuelled the excitement that the machines could have a wider commercial application around the world, where older pipelines are breaking up.

While Australia’s pipeline infrastructure is relatively young, ageing pipelines are becoming a nagging problem in other parts of the world.

The Asian Development Bank estimates that more than one million kilometres of mains need urgent repairs in Asia alone.

“Anything that was built 100 years ago would be grunting now,” Mr Brown said.

“I guess our problem being a government agency is we find it doesn’t quite fit into our style to operate commercially.

“We haven’t had a marketing budget for this type of thing. We are currently trying to find someone to take it on board because it’s not going to flourish in here.”

So the Water Corporation has called others on board to look at the potential, including the UWA.

The MBA students, as part of the entrepreneurship program at UWA Graduate School of Management, developed a marketing and business plan for the technology.

The work by the students also has caught the interest of the WA venture capital industry.

Stewart Washer, chief executive of venture capitalist adviser Bioreview, said he was interested in looking further into the viability of the technology to see how it could be adopted as a stand-alone business.

“It must be a stand-alone business with the rights to the intellectual property and must not be a hybrid of the Water Corporation,” Dr Washer said.

“You have to structure it up with the ability to take it up and expand beyond the Water Corporation’s business. Venture capitalists want to see the real blue sky.”

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1st-Gold Corporation$8.10bn
2nd↑Synergy$3.10bn
3rd↑Water Corporation$2.55bn
4th↓GESB$2.04bn
5th-Western Power$1.78bn
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