“From a thermoset perspective, what would enable the technology more is if we had resins that were much more resistant to the hydrolysis and chemical attack that you see in these applications,” he says. “Not to say that they aren’t [resistant] under more normal conditions, but when you get under these extreme pressures and heat, all these mechanisms speed up greatly and so you need something really, really inert to handle that environment for any length of time.”
Composites’ insulating properties often make them invaluable in these piping applications. “Most of the materials we’re focusing on in the gas and oil market are thermal insulators,” says Mitchell Johnson. In the fracking process for extracting liquefied natural gas (LNG), for example, General Plastics’ rigid polyurethane foam products serve as thermal blocks.
In essence, the process of mining LNG involves injecting liquid nitrogen down into the gas deposit to lower the temperature enough to transform the gas into a liquid. The LNG is then pumped to the surface. And as Mitchell Johnson explains it, “On a raised pipeline you need some kind of a thermal break between the refrigerated pipe and the metal bracket that’s above ground, otherwise you lose a lot of energy down into the ground.” General Plastics provides rigid foam supports that are custom-designed to hold those pipes in place while serving as a thermal break.
Reduction in Maintenance Costs
It’s not just new drilling techniques and infrastructure placing demands on materials. Existing infrastructure has equally heavy demands, especially when it comes to reducing the high costs of maintenance.
For offshore platforms in particular, maintenance is a tricky and expensive business. A study from the energy market research firm Douglas-Westwood estimated offshore maintenance alone at $672 billion in 2018. So when the switch to composite components can help lower maintenance demands, these materials can gain ground in oil and gas industry applications. Composite materials are now able to point to products that stand the test of time as evidence of their low-maintenance properties.
“Strongwell’s grating was first used on an offshore platform in 1979 and is still in service,” says Barry Myers, corporate marketing manager for Strongwell, a pultruded FRP manufacturer in Bristol, Va. “Many of Strongwell’s products are a good fit in the oil and gas industry because of their light weight, corrosion resistance and low maintenance requirements.”
The company’s DURADEK® fiberglass reinforced grating was first installed in 1979 on Shell’s Ellen platform (now operated by Aera Energy LLC), just off the shore of southern California. According to Strongwell, there’s been little indication that the wide-ranging abuse the grating has suffered over its 40-year history – from accidental sandblasting and paint overspray to abrasion from the platform’s surface safety valves – has had much effect on the durable phenolic resin-based, pultruded grating.