Composite composure

Elaine Maslin

December 1, 2016

Elaine Maslin surveys some of the firms creating new solutions for bonded thermoplastic composite pipes.

Magma’s 2in jumper being put to the test at Oceaneering’s facility in Houston. Photo from Magma Global. 

Frontier exploration and big vanity projects remain firmly off the agenda in the oil and gas business. In a low capex and opex environment, composite risers might finally get a look in, as operators move toward more near-field tieback opportunities to hold up their production numbers.

If so, it’s good timing for a small group of firms that have been busy proving the in-service capabilities of bonded thermoplastic composite pipes (TCP) over recent months and years. UK-based Magma Global and Dutch firm Airborne Oil & Gas have fully bonded TCP offerings. Meanwhile, others are taking a more incremental approach, adding new materials to existing flexibles to reduce weight. GE Oil & Gas, for example, is offering a hybrid solution from its northeast England-based Wellstream business.

Magma’s new factory. Photo from Magma Global. 

Magma

Southampton-based Magma Global has also been busy expanding, proving its product and getting ready to deploy its first, 3000m water depth, 15,000psi-rated, 3in integrated deployment package (IDP) hydraulic light well intervention rental system.

Magma’s m-Pipe is a bonded TCP, made using a composite of carbon fiber and Victrex PEEK (polyether ether ketone), which is built up on a mandrel in an additive manufacturing type process, which enables dimensional control (i.e. incorporating end-fittings).

The first IDP, built with Scotland-based backdeck equipment firm Maritime Developments, had completed system integration testing in early October and was due to be deployed in either West Africa or the US Gulf of Mexico, depending on contract agreements, as OE went to press.

The move follows Magma’s completion of a project with DeepStar to prove in principle a 4in, 20,000psi version of its m-Pipe, alongside work with Oceaneering on a 2in jumper and ROV (remotely operated vehicle) lightweight connector package, plus various other projects for clients, including gas lines and H2S service m-Pipe and ongoing work to qualify m-Pipe as a 6in, 10,000psi riser or jumper under a project with BP and Subsea 7, which is due to complete late 2017.

Meanwhile, the firm has just moved into new factory space, doubling its production line capacity from two to four production lines, giving it a 60km of 8in, 5000psi a year equivalent capacity. As well as adding production line capacity, the move creates more space for testing, says Charles Tavner, commercial director, Magma Global.

Being made from carbon fiber and PEEK, the product is lighter than steel by a factor of 10, Magma says, whose ultimate target is the flexible riser market, where moves towards depths beyond 3000m, and higher temperature and pressures as well as corrosive fluids have started to challenge existing technologies.

There are moves towards such a use in the market, Tavner says. “There are a few riser projects where people have very specific constraints, like trying to put a single well tieback into an existing host and the host being near payload capacity,” he says. This is an issue seen particularly in the US Gulf of Mexico, Tavner adds. “The American market seems very keen to tie-in some smaller fields.” This includes a few smaller companies which seem to be pushing pretty hard in these tough times using the low prices in the market, he says.

While so far it’s only been downlines, booster lines, and jumpers that have entered service, these effectively lay the ground work for risers, Tavner says.

“We have now done permanent water, hydrocarbon [liquids] and gas service and we are building some H2S and hydrocarbon jumpers at the moment. We are doing a full range of permanent service applications and the BP program will do all the qualification for a riser to a standard an international oil company would want it done to. Bring those together and you have got all the building blocks for a deepwater riser. Now, what it takes is a customer with a need and with an economic need to do it. And we are starting to see those.”

While the 6in, 10,000psi riser project with BP and Subsea 7 isn’t due to complete until late 2017, the work will mean less demanding product developed as part of this program – water injection lines or short-term applications – could be used before then as the final product would be for more demanding applications.

DeepStar

Magma started its project with Deepstar in 2015. The project has seen a 4in, 20,000psi flexible m-Pipe jumper produced and successfully tested to 32,500psi, then tested to destruction, seeing it reach 35-45,000psi.

“There’s a large interest in high-pressure flexibles,” Tavner says. “DeepStar has been looking for several years for a high-pressure flexible. They then came to us last year. We built a 4in, 20,000psi flexible and carried out a set of tests to demonstrate its capabilities. It’s not fully qualified, but it does demonstrate the performance of m-Pipe right up to the pressure range they are interested in.” Deepstar had wanted to take the project further, Tavner says, but the body stopped all spending from 2016.

Earlier this year, Magma also built a 2in, 15,000psi jumper for Oceaneering, to be integrated with the firm’s M5 connector. Oceaneering has been demonstrating the jumper to clients in the US, Tavner says, and is due to test it at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab outside Houston. One of the key hurdles has been demonstrating its flexibility. “Until clients actually see it, they don’t believe it,” Tavner says. At NASA, ROV manipulation trials will be run to get ROV operators comfortable with the product, he says. “It is a big deal with them because it allows it to be used for flying leads and simplifies installation techniques.”

Meanwhile, Magma is working through client projects, including some high H2S jumpers for a national oil company in the Middle East. For Saipem, it built a 2.5in, 10,000psi gas line for subsea deployment in place of a non-bonded flexible. The system was delivered this year for use in the North Sea.

Still, the market remains fairly tough, Tavner says. “It’s clearly very difficult at the moment. The number of opportunities are down, but we are seeing a lot more acceptance from operators of doing something different. Two years ago operators would say we just don’t want to do anything new. At the moment, they are saying they don’t want to do anything unqualified or risky, but they’re happy to do something new if it saves some money. There is also much more senior engagement. Six to nine months ago, there was complete paralysis. It’s all about timing and we are now seeing it (bonded TCP) becoming a project requirement.”

A 6in TCP flowline. Photo from Airborne. 

Going Airborne

Dutch composites firm Airborne Oil & Gas secured US$23 million in funding, including $10 million from Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures (SAEV) in mid-October.

The cash is for the firm to continue developing TCP. It came shortly after Airborne started a project to qualify a TCP deepwater jumper spool application for oil major Total. Additionally, the firm announced an expansion in manufacturing capacity and an increase in sales staff.

Airborne’s pipes are meld-fused together from carbon fiber and polymer tape to produce “monolithic structures,” says Airborne’s CEO Eric van der Meer. “There are no moving parts or friction, yet they are lightweight (80% less than their metallic equivalents), flexible and non-metallic,” which means they eliminate the need for corrosion prevention and inspection measures.

Van der Meer, speaking at Offshore Energy in Amsterdam in late October, says capex costs could be reduced by 30% and opex costs by 90% using these.

Airborne Oil & Gas, headquartered in Ijmuiden (Port of Amsterdam), has been working with Total on the development of TCP since the start of the Cost Effective Riser Thermoplastic Composite Riser joint industry project in 2009. Total is initially looking to use the technology for water injection well jumpers, however. Part of the attraction is that TCP allows installation without high-precision subsea metrology, as is the case for rigid steel spools. The project includes the manufacturing and qualification testing of full-scale, 6in internal diameter prototypes and is planned to deliver qualification to DNV GL standard RP-F119 in Q1 2017.

“The possibility with TCP to handle large deflections, the ability to cut-to-length and terminate the pipe at location and the subsequent installation with small vessels, make a compelling business case for TCP jumpers,” said Frédéric Garnaud, research and development deep offshore program manager, Total, when the project was announced. “We estimate we can achieve considerable cost savings by using TCP jumpers.”

Airborne has recently completed a project with Chevron to provide a 12,400psi methanol injection spool for permanent service in the North Sea, van der Meer says. This is on the Alder field, which came online in November. Airborne is also looking to deploy a system for hydrocarbon use in the South China Sea next year, which will be a first.

Meanwhile, the Libra consortium, offshore Brazil, invited Airborne Oil & Gas to perform a failure mode, effect and criticality assessment (FMECA) for a TCP riser that could be used at the giant Libra field.

Last year, Airborne supplied a TCP flowline for Petronas for use in 30m water depth offshore Malaysia as part of a pilot project. Airborne had already supplied downlines and dynamic jumpers for well intervention.

Following the investment from SAEV, the shareholders in Airborne Oil & Gas are HPE Growth Capital, Shell, Chevron Technology Ventures, Evonik, Saudi Aramco, Adveq, founders and management. But, despite strong industry backing, van der Meer, who worked at Shell before joining Airborne, laments the length of time it takes operators to adopt new technology.

If operators fail to buy product from new technology companies, which they want to promote to strengthen competition in the market, the result could end up being in those companies being bought out by larger players and the market remaining dominated by the main firms, he warns.

Some of the issues for companies’ poor technology adoption rate are risk aversion, company culture, fear of failure, and organizational set-up. “There’s no silver bullet,” van der Meer says, but Airborne is doing its part, including working with DNV GL to produce the aforementioned recommended practice, RP-F119.

“Our company is at inflection point. We have sold several high risk applications, well intervention systems in West Africa, methanol injection for Chevron. We are well funded. We have 90 staff and are nearly 20 years old. Next for us is dynamic risers.”

GE Oil & Gas

A GE Oil & Gas composite flexible. Photo from GE Oil & Gas.

By the end of this year, GE Oil & Gas was due to have completed its new composite production module at its Wellstream plant in Newcastle, England.

The facility will enable the firm to take its flexible composite riser solution a step further – qualifying a 10in product for 3000m water depth, while also enabling production of high-pressure water injection lines, jumpers or flowlines.

Work on composites has been in progress for some time, with the benefits being seen as weight reduction, especially when it’s hanging off a floating production facility, as well as installation time and installation vessel requirements, plus sour service capabilities.

“We believe in flexibles, as opposed to rigid pipe,” says Alberto Matucci, CEO, Wellstream. “Flexible pipe is relatively recent, compared to rigid. Flexibles enable deeper or faster installation, so in certain environments flexibles are a more effective solution to transport the hydrocarbons to surface.”

Composites are not a new idea, however, Matucci says. “People have been looking at it for flexible and rigid or semi-rigid for many years, including Wellstream and GE. Only since a couple of years ago it became more serious,” however, he says.

GE Oil & Gas acquired Wellstream in 2011, and since then it has integrated and grown the business. The firm opened its innovation center dedicated to flexibles pipe in Newcastle over a year ago. It is a twin of an innovation center dedicated to flexible pipe in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, as part of GE’s Global Research Centers network.

Matucci says that GE’s approach has been to use proven technologies and introduce novelty where it makes the most sense. The firm has taken a conventional riser and replaced a layer of metallic armor with a composite layer. This means that connections, etc., would be able to remain as they would for a conventional riser.

“Today, flexibles are made in multiple layers of metal and polymer,” Matucci says. Conventional flexible risers, for example, have an inner carcass, fluid barrier, metallic pressure armor, tensile armor layers, insulation and an outer sheath. They are individual unbonded layers.

A GE Oil & Gas composite flexible pipe being tested. Photo from GE Oil & Gas.

“We replace the second metallic layer that has to hold the pressure and gives the required level of rigidity and flexibility and use a layer of composite. Everything else remains pretty much the same,” he says. The fluid barrier is replaced with a bonded polymer liner, which bonds with the composite layer, made of polymer and carbon fiber. This is weaved on to the polymer liner in a resin, which is cured with a laser beam, creating a “seamless boundary with the inner body, made of polymer.”

“With this approach we can take whatever plays with conventional pipe and fit it,” Matucci says. “So, end fittings, etc., in our open-based approach, and not altering critical points and elements critical to failure.”

The pipe will be 30% lighter, GE Oil & Gas says, making it easier to transport. More will be able to be stored on a single reel and installation vessels will be able to be lighter with smaller tensioners for handling. The number of buoyancy clamps or tethers used infield could also be reduced, GE says. The firm also says total installed cost is 20-25% reduced.

Pipes produced will include some able to handle 15,000psi fluids beyond 3000m water depth, with up to 150°C capability, GE says.

The first of a number of new composites production modules is due to be completed this year at Wellstream, so that 2017 will see produced, 10in pipe go through the qualification phase. Further modules will also be built at the firm’s Rio plant. Meanwhile, the firm will also be able to produce product for less critical applications, Matucci says, i.e. water injection lines, just as Airborne and Magma have done.

“We believe in this solution a lot,” Matucci says. “It will make manufacturing and the utilization and installation easier and less expensive.”