For the development of a distributed acoustic sensor that turns a length of standard optical fibre into a string of precision microphones. The accuracy of the technology allows it to be used for a wide range of applications, including seismic imaging.

Seismic sensor arrays – used in oil and gas fields to monitor and optimise hydrocarbon extraction – are normally laid on the ground or on the seabed. More reliable data can be collected from within wellbores, but this is not usually possible when the well is producing.

Silixa’s Intelligent Distributed Acoustic Sensor (iDAS) turns optical fibres into a string of precision microphones. This enables the acquisition of high-resolution seismic data from within oil wells, where optical fibres are already used to provide communication to pressure and temperature gauges. The iDAS launches pulses of light down the fibre and analyses the small amount of light backscattered to determine the change in fibre strain. The innovation relies on this random light scattering to record the full acoustic signal simultaneously at every 1m over a distance of 40km.

This technology has enabled iDAS to successfully detect a number of earthquakes and to quantify the earthquake’s distance and magnitude. iDAS has a wide range of other applications including pipeline leak detection, intruder detection, flow metering and monitoring for seismicity around carbon capture and storage wells.

The company

Silixa was founded in 2007 in the garage of one of the three iDAS inventors, who went on to develop and commercialise the technology. Silixa now employs 60 full-time staff and has been recognised in the Deloitte Fast 50 index as the fastest growing UK electronics company in 2013, and the second fastest in 2014.