National Physical Laboratory

Take a deep breath

The National Physical Laboratory (NPL) has made significant improvements in analytical methods for multi-component gas mixtures and instigated a range of new primary standards that have together resulted in improvements in the services offered to commercial divers, particularly those involved in 'saturation diving' for the oil and gas sector.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto
Image courtesy of iStockphoto

The Gas & Particle Metrology Group at NPL provides analysis of gas samples that are used to feed a whole range of commercial diving systems, including deep sea submersibles, living chambers, hyperbaric rescue vehicles and diving bells. This diving activity usually occurs in the North Sea and divers can spend up to a week submerged.

NPL's recent innovations in improving the service capability for the analysis of gas samples for hyperbaric applications, will provide a safer working environment for the huge number of commercial divers, particularly those involved in 'saturation diving' for the oil and gas sector.

Due to the nature of the working environment, NPL's principal customers require their gas samples to be analysed and certified within a 48-hour period, including support at weekends, often with very limited notice periods. The potential ramifications of not delivering to these very tight time constraints means that private companies running large-scale deep sea exploration cannot continue work. Having vessels on standby waiting for these results leads to the private companies involved incurring extremely large costs. There is also the very real danger of contaminants in the samples (from paint and thinners used during maintenance work or cleaning fluids), which under pressure would be greatly enhanced and be potentially life-threatening to divers.

The team at NPL has developed innovative methods to improve the sensitivity of the analytical techniques used and the reliability and speed of the laboratory process using a single instrument. Its ability to separate gaseous components and quantify both high and low concentrations has been tailored to customer specific analysis requirements and de-risks the turnaround time for the service.

A novel set of primary standards containing 20 different compounds has also been produced that includes four additional compounds not previously present in such multicomponent standards. This has also led to increased analytical capability and improved detection limits.

Marivon Corbel, higher research scientist, said: "This new method which used one instrument instead of two, has halved turnaround time on sample analysis and also allows for a greater range of component identification. However the greatest benefit is that it provides a safer working environment for divers."

Find out more about NPL's Chemical Metrology research

Contact: Marivon Corbel

Last Updated: 30 Jan 2014
Created: 30 Jan 2014