TOHL: the startup that lays water pipelines by helicopter
August 22, 2012
A new startup named TOHL, comprised of a handful young Georgia Tech graduates, has set up shop in Chile in an effort to "change the way people think about pipelines." Using little more than a helicopter and a coil of flexible high-density polyethylene (HDPE) pipe, TOHL laid a kilometer (0.6 miles) of water pipeline by helicopter in a "record-setting" nine minutes, despite windy conditions and mountainous terrain. TOHL claims this is "the first ever completely aerial installation of a pipeline." Now company President Benjamin Cohen is taking to Kickstarter to ask for US$30,000 to build the company's first "full-scale" installation.
TOHL's helicopter (hired from a local firm) not only carries the HDPE pipe, but unspools it as it goes, laying much longer sections of pipe than would ordinarily be possible: from 500 meters (0.31 miles) up to several kilometers in length. The approach makes it possible to install water pipeline across remote or inhospitable landscapes, bringing water to remote locations that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive or impractical to reach.
HDPE pipe itself isn't a new thing, but installing it directly from the air (on the fly, so to speak) is. Though we've seen pipeline flown into remote locations by helicopter, these have been relatively short, inflexible lengths of pipe dropped off for installation on the ground.
Given that the initial testing took place July 15, TOHL is progressing at break-neck speed. Clearly this is a company with the utmost confidence in its product and means of installation, which it claims is easier, faster, less damaging to the environment, and (perhaps most crucially) cheaper than traditional means of laying pipe. TOHL claims that, because fewer welds are required on the ground, labor costs are only a fifth of the norm.
Perhaps more impressive is that the pipeline can be retrieved in much the same way as it is laid: by helicopter; allowing lengths of pipeline to be reused elsewhere. TOHL demonstrated this as part of its initial testing, retrieving the kilometer-length of pipe in under 10 hours.
The $30,000 TOHL seeks would fund a more ambitious water pipeline laying a longer section with greater diameter. TOHL's Apoorv Sinha told Gizmag that this will be a long-term municipal pipeline serving a small community. Though TOHL has aspirations in fields as diverse as mining and fiber optics, Sinha stressed the humanitarian aspects of the company's work, and one imagines there won't be much change from the $30,000 when the pipeline is complete.
As such, backers shouldn't expect their own personal HDPE pipeline. At the upper end of the range, a four-figure pledge will fly you to Chile (from the US, at least) to visit TOHL's operations on the ground. A $25 pledge, meanwhile, will get you an HDPE water bottle, sticker, and access to a series of web documentaries being made by TOHL.
TOHL's short documentary, Mobilizing the Globe, which includes footage of their tech trial, is embedded below.