Colonial Pipeline explores ethanol transport

By Erin Voegele | October 06, 2008
Web exclusive posted Oct. 9, 2008 at 4:29 p.m. CST

Georgia-based Colonial Pipeline Co. is studying the feasibility of introducing ethanol into pipeline shipments. The company is using geographic information system technology software provided by Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc. to manage the study.

The software provides a framework for understanding different elements of the study based on geographic location and relationships. For example, ethanol production is concentrated in the Midwest, far from most consumers and out of direct reach of many existing pipelines. Colonial Pipeline is using the software to find the best opportunities for connecting producers to pipelines, terminals and retail gas stations.

Using the software, Colonial Pipeline engineers can layer infrastructure data with natural resources and population information. It provides then with an integrated account of the company's assets and infrastructure. The system tracks the location of pipelines, tanks, equipment, and other components.

The technology has allowed Colonial Pipeline to build business models for shipping ethanol through pipelines, weigh the cost associated with railroads, determine the production capacity for ethanol plants, as well as transit times from producer to pipeline. Engineers are able to map and model scenarios for transporting ethanol, and can analyze population data within the software to determine where the greatest demand for ethanol exists. Considerations such as property ownership, water bodies, environmental issues, impact to other utilities, vegetation, fault lines and topography can also be layered into the software and analyzed to assist in decision making.