Infrastructure expansion in the oil and gas industry drives demand for – and on – composite components.

There are massive demands on the structures that bring oil and gas out of the depths of the earth and sea to be processed for consumption. There are intense temperatures and pressure levels, as well as high rates of friction and hazardous materials to withstand. And there’s another factor to consider: the necessity to grow new infrastructure to support this booming industry.

A 2017 report prepared for the American Petroleum Institute, “U.S. Oil and Gas Infrastructure Investment through 2035,” predicts that “rapid infrastructure development is likely to continue for a prolonged period of time. The primary drivers for robust development are still in place – shale and tight resource development is likely to continue in earnest, and markets will grow in response to the relatively low commodity prices that are being fostered by new oil and gas supplies.”

The Perfect Combination of Properties

The surging demand for oil and gas infrastructure is good news for the composites industry. Composite materials truly shine in applications that demand a combination of strength and light weight, and these are often drivers for material selection within oil and gas infrastructure projects. “Often the applications require very high strength, so a high-quality composite material is needed to be able to replace a metallic component and have the strength required,” says Ames Jacoby, technical director for CIP Composites, a Eugene, Ore.-based supplier of composite bushings, bearings and washers.

Offshore pipelines are a prime example of how composites’ unique properties can solve critical problems for the oil and gas industry. Often, pipes float along the water’s surface or are semi-submerged, so they must be flexible enough to withstand the movement of the current. Tacoma, Wash.-based polyurethane foam manufacturer General Plastics provides rigid foam buoyancy modules that help keep the pipelines afloat.

“They have to fasten these heavy pipes to the foam, and the foam has to have a certain amount of compressive strength to not only withstand the depth, but also be tough enough to handle the use and application and deployment,” explains Mitchell Johnson, CEO of General Plastics. “The oil and gas environment these materials work in is harsh. It’s not like aerospace. Things get handled pretty rough.”

General Plastics often proposes solutions that involve wrapping a composite shell around the lightweight foam to protect it from the environment. This combination provides the flotation benefit of the foam with the durability of a harder skin.