Composite materials in O&G
The benefits of composite materials for the oil and gas industry
Magma CEO Martin Jones talks about carbon composite use in oil and gas and major industries.
“Composite materials provide a solution to common oil and gas industry challenges such as corrosion, fatigue and weight, all of which contribute to increased risk and cost to offshore projects.
Once oil and gas reserves in deeper water come into the picture, the challenges become even greater, with much larger subsea components that are often required to work under much higher pressures, sour service and higher temperature conditions.
Reliability as well as cost becomes paramount. There is good news, composite technology applications have already been matured in other industries, which is to the benefit of the oil and gas industry.
Composites in aerospace
Most significantly for the oil and gas industry, composite technology has matured particularly well in the heavily regulated aerospace industry, a very safety critical industry sector. Almost every single commercial passenger aircraft that you step on today stays in the air as a result of structural composites. The Boeing 787 is 70% composite, for example, with a carbon fibre composite fuselage, wings and tail. The wing spars of the Airbus A320 and 380, 340 and 350 all have composite wings, as well as tail and fuselage components.
The passenger aircraft industry has spent the last 30 years working on composite materials science and analysis tools to predict strength and flight performance. The benefits of this work is now transferring into a wide range of other cost and risk conscious industries.
The primary drive for the aircraft industry is operating economics as the key concern is aircraft weight, in order to safely maximise the number of passengers that can be carried and to reduce fuel bills. Composites not only give you the strength and fatigue capability that is essential for the airframe, but also a long life that maximises the return for those airlines that buy composite aircraft.
Composites in civil engineering
The other key industry adopting composites is civil engineering, where weight is not so much of an issue, like in the oil and gas industry which has not been concerned as much about weight historically, although this is changing. In civil engineering the drivers are different, but just as important.
Whilst weight is indeed an issue in certain structures, like bridges, it’s fatigue performance and reliability that are the key drivers for the increasing use of carbon fibre composites in bridges and large architectural structures.
The two biggest composite projects in the world today are civil engineering projects, one is the new bridging system and tower cladding in Mecca Saudi Arabia, which is the largest use of carbon fibre in any project, and the second is the West Gate Bridge in Australia.
As an aside, the third largest global project using carbon fibre are the Sailing yacht A masts build by our subsidiary company Magma Structures and delivered in mid-2015.
Growth and maturity in the use of composites
This has come about due to three key factors. Firstly, the general improvement in composite materials now available, such as the T700 industrial grade carbon fibre and PEEK used in Magma’s m-pipe®. These materials are fully qualified and have also been used extensively in aerospace, and the Victrex PEEK Magma uses is qualified in a number of oil and gas applications in addition to its extensive use in aerospace.
The second area is automated manufacturing technology. The aerospace industry has really pioneered the use of robots to build composite structures, mainly for two reasons.
Firstly, they needed reliability and consistency to give them the quality they required. Secondly, they needed the cost reduction that comes by taking people out of manufacturing processes, exactly the same sort of drivers that we have in our m-pipe® manufacturing process.
In truth, whilst the m-pipe® manufacturing line runs 24 hours a day with two people per shift monitoring production, the reality is that it is completely automated and so really runs operated by just one person, with the second person purely as back-up.
Thirdly, there has been a steady maturing of the analysis tools behind composite materials, and that’s just as critical for oil and gas as it is for aerospace.
Magma m-pipe® – capitalising on composite materials and manufacturing
Magma m-pipe® is a high performance carbon fibre, Victrex PEEK and S-2 glass thermoplastic composite pipe. Toray, who supply Magma for m-pipe®, is the world’s largest carbon fibre supplier. They provide most of the carbon fibre for Airbus and Boeing for their major airframe structures.
We also use Victrex PEEK, a material already used extensively in the oil and gas industry with hydrocarbons.
So materials selection has been key to Magma and we will continue to use these materials to enable us to qualify m-pipe® fully.
From a production perspective, what is interesting is that just ten years ago Magma’s m-pipe® simply couldn’t exist. Whilst the high quality raw materials were available, the manufacturing technology wasn’t there in terms of its sophistication, reliability and, ultimately, commercial sense. For example, m-pipe® manufacture requires very high power lasers that weren’t available even five years ago.
So, today, we have increasing demand from the oil and sas industry as it faces significant technical challenges and even greater commercial challenges, combined with a rapidly maturing technology which has the ability to transform the cost effectiveness of subsea development and operation.
In the last 18 months we have seen the industry take significant steps towards the adoption of this inevitable technology with the publication of DNV GL F119 Recommended Practice for Thermoplastic Composite Pipe, released in December 2015.
Significant investment in project specific qualification and testing has also been combined with increasingly ambitious field deployments. With the challenge on costs in the current oil price environment, combined with the increasing technical challenges, the rapid maturing and adoption of composite pipe technology within the sector is an essential element in the industries’ strategic response.
- To see the video of Martin Jones’ introduction to composite technology for oil and gas – click here