An Israeli company is developing an underwater technique for storing highly volatile petroleum gases in an effort to prevent accidents and terror attacks.

When a freak propane gas explosion left Martha Stewart’s dog dead this year, questions about the safety of propane tanks and trucks were on the public mind. But accidents like this are only a small part of the story.

At cities across the US, and much of the developed world, you’ll find even larger tanks, where propane and butane gases are stored before being transferred to other facilities or pipes.

Aside from the usual risk of a spark, or fire, these large gas facilities are also vulnerable to terrorist attack. A serious explosion at a gas facility in a US city could cause a large-scale human disaster.

Now, an Israeli entrepreneur could have an answer – storing the gas under the sea.

Ofir Sarid, founder and CEO of SeaGen Systems, has come up with a solution that can pipe liquefied petroleum gases (LPG) like propane and butane, deep underwater, and store it far from shore, keeping the gas away from the hands of terrorists, and safe from accidental explosions.

A cooking gas that can be volatile

According to Sarid, LPG gas is the most common cooking gas in the US. Also used to fire up the barbecue, LPG is a byproduct of the petroleum industry that can be extremely volatile when it comes into contact with sparks or flames.

It is commonly transported by ship freighters, and gas distributors keep the fuel in tanks by the sea before distributing it to their pipelines.

So that the gas needn’t be stored in large, outdated and sometimes-leaky tanks near the shore, Sarid has developed underwater storage tanks.

“If you have a spark around the site there can be explosions and dead people,” says Sarid, whose family is in the marine construction business. “It happened in New York, Mexico and France. I can send you a list of accidents,” he tells ISRAEL21c.

SeaGen’s pressurized facilities have no fear of sparks. Located underwater in the ocean or a lake, 50 to 100 meters from shore, they come equipped with special docking stations to move the propane from the freighter ships, and with another line to move it over to the land.

No chance of explosion

It is much more difficult to approach such sites than to detonate a bomb on land, says Sarid. And accidental leaks would not harm the water or fish, as the contents, he says, would simply bubble up into the air and be released as a gas if the tanks were damaged or tampered with.

“They are unique. Using them, there is no chance for an explosion,” says Sarid, citing special materials that use inter-static pressure to liquefy the gas. “There is no [pressure] difference inside the tanks and underwater so no explosions could be possible.”

Inside SeaGen’s maritime terminals LPG gas would be contained in “smart tanks” – tanks that can withstand the high levels of underwater pressure. Underwater, the gas is kept as a liquid (not as a gas) which allows for a cheaper, more efficient means of storage.

SeaGen’s possibilities for an aesthetic solution also can’t be ignored, as shorelines and ports are usually situated on highly desirable tracts of land often in densely populated areas. Eliminating the tanks on land could give some port cities a major facelift and new real estate options.

Sarid’s suggestion: “Let’s say we clear shorelines in most of the western countries of the stainless steel [LPG] storage tanks they use today. They are ugly, old – usually more than decades – rusting and leaking.”

Pilot site ready to roll

Founded in 2004 and supported by an Israeli Office of the Chief Scientist grant and private donors, SeaGen is working on building a beta site with a strategic partner or private investor.

The company has approval to build a pilot site in Israel, which could be ready by the end of the year, depending on the investment climate.

SeaGen, housed at Israel’s Yozmot HaEmek technological incubator in the north of the country, has a staff of eight skilled engineers who not only deal with materials science, but also have expertise in aspects of chemical science and mechanical engineering.

As far as Sarid knows, no other company in the world is developing underwater storage facilities like his.

In November, SeaGen will be among the innovators featured at WATEC, Israel’s 5th international water convention. Those attending can visit SeaGen and other innovators from the Israeli water market.