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BGE piloting vacuum reducing greenhouse gas emissions  

The ZEVAC tool is being tested by BGE to help avoid venting gas during certain repairs. (Submitted Photo)

BGE is piloting a new natural gas tool that officials say will help the environment, decrease odor calls and increase safety for staff.

Known as the Zero Emission Vacuum and Compressor, or ZEVAC, the device is used during pipe replacements, repairs or new installation as a part of BGE’s/Exelon’s voluntary methane emissions reduction activities.

A vacuum compressor recycles gas by transporting from one pipe or section of pipe to another. This allows the operator to transfer gas back into the system instead of venting it into the atmosphere.

BGE maintains 7,500 miles of natural gas pipelines in central Maryland serving more than 680,000 customers.

There is no time saved by using the ZEVAC, but Joe Reynolds, general engineer in the company’s gas, engineering and standards group, notes there are multiple benefits to using the tool. Greenhouse gas emissions are decreased leading to environmental benefits. The machine may be especially helpful when staff are working on jobs with higher pressure pipes as it will minimize the amount of gas expelled.

“By not emitting the gas to the atmosphere, we will be getting fewer odor calls from customers where the gas is being expelled,” he said noting the social benefits. “That frees up our gas technicians to respond to calls that actually need immediate action.”

There are also safety benefits for the staff. “Natural gas is a flammable gas so by keeping it in the pipe, it is improving safety as well,” he said.

ZEVAC will be used by BGE’s gas distribution operations group in the field. Technicians received training on the vacuum recently, and Reynolds notes the team is excited about using the device. As of mid-July, staff had not used ZEVAC in the field yet. There are a few upcoming projects in late summer they anticipate could be a good fit.

The metrics to using ZEVAC include looking at the length and diameter of pipes as well as pressure before, during and after the work to determine greenhouse gas emissions. BGE staff will also note the number of customer calls and complaints they receive about noise and odor, comparing them to jobs used without the ZEVAC.

After using ZEVAC in the field during a pilot period, BGE plans to assess the results through an internal report which will determine whether to expand the program to include their sister utilities.