Will The Oil & Gas Industry Use More Composite and Polymer Pipes In The Future?
The oil and gas industry has to company with certain economic, technological, and technical requirements, especially when it comes to construction materials. These materials are supposed to withstand fatigue, weight, and corrosion, which can contribute to higher cost and risk of offshore projects.
Composites are currently becoming slightly more popular than they have been in the past because they have unique properties that make them especially suitable for oil and gas industry applications, namely:
- Low weight
- Inexpensive to install
- Adaptable during increased operating pressures
Glass-fiber reinforced polymer (GFRP) composites are regularly used in piping systems for applications such as chemical plants, oil exploration, and dredging, as they enable the systems to withstand corrosive fluids under various conditions.
There have been important advances in the area of fluid handling and composite pipe work. One of the biggest incentives for more use of composite and polymer pipes in the oil and gas industry is the lower cost. Another is the increased longevity of new, safe, and cost-effective construction that can stand up well in an offshore environment.
The U.S. and China are major consumers of composites. North America will likely remain the primary region due to:
- The growing awareness of the advantages of composite materials
- The increasing number of natural gas infrastructure projects
For other projects where traditional metal pipes such as carbon steel, aluminum alloys, stainless steel, brass, copper, aluminized steel, or titanium, oil and gas equipment piping has been created by cutting sections of pipe and forming assemblies by welding elbows. While this method is effective, it is also expensive and the weld joints are always a possible leak point.US pipe manufacturer Stam bends the piping so that there is one continuous unit with weld joints at the ends. This custom tube bending have resulted in lower costs and installation times for oilfield equipment such as gas compressors and hydraulic fracturing units.
Will Future Demand for Composite Materials hold up?
To anticipate and enable future demand, oil and gas leader Aramco has signed a charter with TWI Ltd and the National Structural Integrity Research Center to create the Non-Metallic Innovation Center, or NIC. NIC will develop field application technologies that are non-metallic and ready to deploy.
After an initial internal examination, Aramco found that technical limitations were keeping non-metallic pipes from being adopted on a wider scale. These obstacles were perpetuated by the absence of reliable inspection and assessment methodologies for composite pipes. Another problem was the lack of confidence in the durability of non-metallic pipes.
At present the oil and gas industry has a high polymer volume fraction in a composite pipe (between 40 and 50%) extending across a huge pipeline network measuring over two million kilometers worldwide. This fact represents a huge opportunity to increase the demand for polymer piping, provided that research and development activities focus on four essential areas:
- Expansion of the operating envelope of pipes made from polymer composites (for example, greater awareness of custom tube bending)
- Advanced polymer liners
- Monitoring and inspection of composite structures that are non-metallic
- The lifetime prediction and fitness for service of polymer and composite structures
Although composite and polymer pipes are being used in the oil and gas industry, metal pipes still dominate the industry and are expected to do so for the foreseeable future.