German chemists say they have developed a system for aerial detection of possible sabotage

German chemists say they have developed a system for aerial detection of possible sabotage along railway lines, gas pipelines and similarly vulnerable sites. Successful trials of the technology were carried out on a disused train track in Germany between May and November 2004, said a spokesperson for German chemical company Lanxess.

The system involves a weather-proof luminescent indicator that is sprayed onto the ground surrounding an area under surveillance. The dye is invisible to the naked eye, but detected when exposed to pulsed laser radiation.

’The chemical base is a biodegradable polymer combined with a suitable variable light indicator,’ Ilona Bolz at Lanxess told Chemistry World. Security and commercial interests prevent the release of further information on the chemistry, she says.

Luminescence can be measured by day or night from a helicopter fitted with fully-automated imaging software. Disturbed stones or soil show up as non-luminescent spots, and the software can be set up to ignore known areas of disruption.

Wingas, based in Kassel, Germany, has a network of gas pipelines more than 2000km long and owns reportedly the biggest gas storage facility in western Europe. But the company is not about to start using the Lanxess system. Wingas has laid fibre optic cables parallel to its underground gas pipelines, which are leased to telecommunication companies, but are also key to pipeline security.

’The "brains" of the Wingas pipeline system are located in Kassel, at the geographical heart of Germany: our dispatching centre. From here, the most up-to-date information technologies and control systems provide complete, around-the-clock monitoring of our more than 2000km of gas pipeline,’ said a company spokesperson. ’Security is based on fibre optic cables, active cathodic corrosion protection, and a 24-hour working dispatching centre.’

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