Materials Replacing Steel in Oil & Gas Industry

Emerging Lightweight Materials Poised to Replace Heavy Steel Across Oil and Gas Applications
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Published: 27 Sep 2017

The oil and gas industry is in the lookout for new materials that can offer a solution to the challenges imparted by the traditionally used one such as steel. While steel and other metals such as aluminum and cast iron are remarkable in terms of strength performance and handling high volumes of oil and gas fluids, a major drawback associated with all these materials is corrosion due to various reasons. Some of these include handling corrosive chemicals, prolonged contact with the high moisture environment (if the pipe is buried underground) or even high temperature and pressure conditions can result in a metal based product being corroded that is followed by development of stress and finally leading to crack the material, many times referred to as stress corrosion cracking(SCC), which can even result in fatal accidents even causing death in some cases. Also, steel is heavy and the need of alternative lightweight materials that can easily be replaced and relocated resulting in lower freight costs are also under being evaluated. A myriad of advancements to explore alternative materials that can eliminate any corrosive factor and additionally prevent stress corrosion cracking is under progress. Aging pipelines across the globe are considered to be replaced by lightweight composite and plastic-baed pipelines that are less prone to stress corrosion cracking. For oil and gas drilling and gathering lines, reinforced thermoplastic pipes are being considered as a potential replacement of steel to cater high performance operation under extremely high temperatures. Oil and gas industrial flooring and gratings made initially of steel are being replaced with fiberglass alternatives for tough mechanical operating conditions. However steel has been used for decades. Though advancement towards alternative materials are prominent, end users are skeptical to use any alternative materials due to lack of reliability. Additionally, plastics and composites have no specific standardizations and specifications for use in this industry. This further creates the need to develop the alternative materials to replace in certain specific segments. Though stakeholders that support the use of steel defer to use traditional carbon or stainless or tool steel and instead are modifying the formulation of steel with innovative alloy compositions to enhance the strength of steel and reduce the corrosion aspect. An example to showcase the same is the use of iron steel. This type of steel is being used in oil and gas transmission pipelines where the high pressure and temperature and corrosivity of the constituents would hinder the use of any other material than steel. Hence nano scale additives, nioboium and titanium alloys and iron steel are penetrating and replacing the use of traditional steel in these segments. Oil and Gas firms as well as Engineering companies prefer these materials to high strength plastics to cater their needs of lightweighting, high strength, anti-corrosivity, HPHT applications and low sagging features. In the next few years, innovative technologies are expected to evolve, that can potentially match steel’s performance characteristics. Some of the key potential materials have been discussed in the research. This research service (RS) depicts the current landscape and the evolving trends in the steel replacement materials development, particularly in oil and gas pipelines. The unique and synergistic approaches are defined below: • Technical plastics used in the Oil and Gas industry: Polyethylene (Innovative types such as HDPE 3710), Polypropylene, Poly-amide-imide, Polyether ether ketone (PEEK) • Advanced Composites: Carbon fiber in polymeric matrix, carbon fiber in epoxy matrix, glass fiber in polymeric matrix, aramid fibers in polymeric matrix, Other types of matrices with the three core fibers • Nanostructured and microalloyed steels: Steel with modified crystalline structure for higher Rockwell hardness • Innovative Alloys: Titanium and Molybdenum alloys replacing cast iron, aluminium and incoloys • Iron Steel: Different types of ferrous steels designed with a unique formulation for an anti-corrosive effect in the oil and gas industry • Nanoadditives: Niobium and carbon nanotube additives to prevent corrosion This study focused on the following: • Technology capabilities of alternative materials • A strategic opportunity evolution showcasing materials with highest potential to replace steel • Stakeholder activities, influence, industry initiatives, key partnerships and funding opportunities • Technology development roadmap highlighting the key materials that can evolve in the next few years • Strategic recommendations for technology developers and end users • Technology management strategies for alternative material technologies to evolve • An appendix is also included, comprising lists of major participants of the study and the most notable patents in the field.

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