Another useful invention from the Seattle area: Kent-based Novinium is marketing a device is says can prevent explosions in underground sewers and conduits, a growing problem with the nation’s aging infrastructure.
A burst of smoke and flame that sends a 250-pound metal manhole cover soaring into the air — this is what the underground utility industry calls a “manhole event.”
They are increasingly common in cities with aging utility infrastructures. Smoke, fire and sometimes outright explosions occur an estimated 2,000 times a year in North American manholes leading to electrical conduits or utilities.
Fortunately, the region that invented the automatic external defibrillator and the commercial jetliner has a solution for this, too.
Kent-based Novinium, which specializes in underground cable rehabilitation, has developed the PreVent Manhole Event Prevention System, a permanently installed device that pulls gases from the manhole to avoid a buildup of explosive chemicals.
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Novinium CEO and President Glen Bertini, said one key is that “we just move a lot of the air out of the manhole.”
Other ventilation systems may only expel the lighter gases collecting at the top of the electric manhole, but PreVent has a wide tube that hangs down and sucks away the sometimes-combustible gases that are heavier than air.
It also can prevent water or debris from flowing into the vent, and has a built-in smart monitoring system that monitors the manhole and can send alerts about water levels and potentially explosive gases.
Bertini conceived the idea for PreVent five or six years ago at a gathering hosted by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). The discussion was about manhole explosions and Bertini’s background as a chemical engineer, unlike most at the discussion, lent him to seeing a solution.
“It is like that saying, if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” Bertini said. “As a chemical engineer, I looked at it differently than an electrical engineer or mechanical engineer.”
On the return flight from the meeting, he drew five or ten potential designs. However, at the time Novinium was only a start-up and lacked the resources to pursue it. Thus the idea sat waiting in the wings until 12 months ago, Bertini said.
PreVent will be marketed toward municipalities and utilities with a price that will be determined on a case by case basis depending on the customer’s system and needs.
Information in this article, originally published June 2, 2016, was corrected June 3, 2016. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that that an estimated 2,000 events occur in North America’s “underground sewers and conduits.” The figure refers to electric manholes/electric vaults not sewers, and the product is designed for electric manholes.