Utilising the power of high-end plastics, Magma Global’s m-pipe is an alternative to steel pipelines
For all its strengths, steel is often at the mercy of oil and gas’s more hazardous qualities, and those of the environment. Pipelines can be eaten away by sulphur compounds from within and saltwater from without, and must endure pressure and temperature changes as well.
All this can put a lot of strain on the piping used to ensure vital hydrocarbon supplies make it safely to their destination without causing costly environmental problems. People are looking past traditional metal pipes towards ones made from stronger and less reactive materials.
Magma Global’s m-pipe is a Thermoplastic Composite Pipe (TCP) made from Victrex polyether ether ketone (PEEK) polymer and high-grade Toray T700 carbon fibre. It is a high-pressure, fatigue-resistant, flexible and sour service resistant product, making it ideally suited to offshore production applications for water, gas and hydrocarbon transfer.
InnovOil spoke to Magma Global founder and CEO Martin Jones about what their product has to offer.
“We were aware of some of the serious challenges within the industry for subsea pipework from the point of view of corrosion, and also the increasing depths and increasing pressures that the oil industry is operating at, creating additional challenges for existing steel and flexible pipe solutions,” said Martin.
He said that “m-pipe uses the best materials that are available to use today, being carbon fibre and PEEK, to produce a high performing pipe that effectively does not corrode, is a fraction of the weight of existing technologies and provides a variety of options for considerable cost savings both in terms of capex and opex for operators and service companies”.
In order to make m-pipe, Magma utilises a high-precision fully automated 3D laser printing process.
“We manufacture m-pipe by combining PEEK and carbon fibre into a tape that we then apply to a pure PEEK mandrel and that process of application is rather like 3D printing,” Martin explained.
“We use robots and we use lasers to fuse materials together to gradually build up the wall thickness of the pipe and that wall thickness is obviously driven by the pressures we’re trying to design the pipe for.”
This creates a continuous high-strength carbon composite pipe that does not corrode and is one tenth the density of steel or non-bonded flexible pipe.
Stealing the show
Steel has been at the centre of a number of the tariffs being applied by the US against the EU and China. A number of oil and gas companies have requested exemptions from these, with over 500 petitions involving pipes and related materials.
These suggest that there is still a huge demand and market for traditional steel pipes.
“In reality, you can always make steel do the job in some shape or form, but the problem with that is that it tends to get very expensive,” Martin said, “so you start creating pipes with very large allowance for corrosion, you start to clad steel pipes with very complex alloys to reduce corrosion.
“You can always ultimately get there with steel, but the cost starts to increase exponentially when those technologies have to deal with some of the more challenging environments.”
Magma Global is not the only one to realise that steel has some serious limitations. Major oil service providers such as TechnipFMC and Baker Hughes, as well as number of smaller ones, have created their own alternatives to steel pipes.
“So at the moment there are the two existing technologies, which is pure steel pipes and what’s called a flexible pipe,” Martin said.
“Those constructs are a combination of steel and different polymers in a very complex structure to produce a more flexible pipe than just a pure rigid steel pipe. The materials associated with those pipes are the same materials fundamentally that you get in a steel pipe, and as a result they’re subject to the same challenges, but those technologies do exist.
“Now, today, the only alternative to those technologies is to look at the sort of product we do, which is a thermoplastic composite pipe, so it’s taking a thermoplastic complex, in our case PEEK, and combing it with a fibre, which could be glass fibre; we chose carbon fibre because of the performance it gives us, both from the point of view of strength and resistance to degradation from oil fluids, oil, gas, etc.”
Steel is also hampered by its high weight and density. High-end polymers offer a more efficient product, and that can translate into a number of savings for their adopters.
“Whilst our input materials are more expensive than pure steel or other polymers, in reality, because we use high performing materials, we use less of them,” Martin said.
“As a result of that, we’re of a comparable price to a flexible product, so the industry is pretty used to that sort of price. The real savings come for us in terms of installed cost.
“Because we’re very light, we don’t require buoyancy in the same way other solutions would require buoyancy, and it’s much easier to deploy from a small vessel.
“We’re just about to deliver two and a half kilometres of flowline to Tullow in Ghana, and that’s achieving a 65% reduction in cost, fully installed, and that’s because they’re able to use a much smaller vessel to deploy the pipe and that reduction in vessel costs, reduction in terms of requirement for buoyancy, etc,” Martin said.
With many of the world’s major oilfields approaching maturity, oil and gas companies are starting to explore new environments for potential replacements. As oil prices slowly rise from their 2014 low, this will also see previously unprofitable fields become potentially viable.
This means that oil companies may find themselves diving deeper and deeper in search of new hydrocarbon sources. This could mean pipes having to contend with depths greater than the current 2,000 metres that many recent projects have reached.
“The deepest deployment we’re doing at the minute is 2,000 metres but the pipe has capabilities to go to 4,000 metres, which is the deepest planned drilling today, and in practice the pipe is strong enough to go down to depths of 6,000-7,000 metres,” Martin said.
Since it is currently unlikely that anyone will be looking for oil in the Challenger Deep (just shy of 11,000 metres deep), this means that m-pipe will be able to handle most any depths an oil and gas company might want to work in.
“From the point of view of pressure rating, the bulk of what we do is around 10,000-15,000 psi, which is where the bulk of activity is within the industry,” Martin said. “However, we’ve already delivered a 20,000-psi pipe into a project called Deepstar.”
This is within the range of pressures found in the very deep areas of the oceans, around of 15,000 psi.
Temperature is also a major concern facing deep sea pipelines, facing both extremes at different points along their length.
“Both at the very low temperatures, so freezing temperatures, and also down to cryogenic temperatures, the pipe performs very well at the lowest end and at the highest end,” Martin said.
“Currently, we’re involved with operators on projects at 160, 170°C. In terms of the temperature envelope, m-pipe is well beyond the temperature envelope of other pipe technologies at the moment.”
Pipelines have to contend with the corrosive power of their contents and their environment. Sulphur compounds in sour oil and gas can react with the steel, clogging the pipeline with elemental sulphur, as well as corroding the metal itself.
“Sour gas is a problem for metals, and in particular for steel, because what it does is it starts to corrode the steel very quickly and you end up with something that industry calls stress corrosion cracking,” Martin said.
“If it’s a flexible product, that creates a crack initiation, and a result of that crack initiation you can end up with the product failing and obviously leaking.”
PEEK, on the other hand, is able to resist sulphide compounds as well as the chlorides found in brackish water pumped up alongside oil, and found in the seawater outside.
“PEEK is not susceptible to any degradation through any of the oilfield chemicals, so we can cope with oil, we can cope with gas, we can cope with water, obviously, but we can cope with the things that cause other technologies problems and therefore problems for the industry,” Martin said.
“We can cope with high percentage concentrations of carbon dioxide, we can cope with H2S as well, and we can cope with any of the acids or methanols that are used within the oil process, so it’s very inert as far as chemicals are concerned.”
Eni means necessary
Its resistance to corrosion is what led to m-pipe being chosen by Bourbon Offshore for use in Eni’s project to improve production from two wells in the Adriatic Sea.
“They were doing this through gas injection and they had been using an existing pipe technology for gas injection and that pipe technology, because the gas was sour, the existing pipe technologies really struggled in that environment,” Martin said.
Eni was after multiple long-life gas lift jumpers, including end fittings, that could combine high performance with low costs for their deepwater wells. “And so they looked at m-pipe,” Martin said.
“We also have a very low permeation rate, so we have 100 times lower permeation than any other polymer. From a gas point of view, that’s very important, so gas isn’t bleeding out into the ocean.
“The final point was that they needed quite a quick response, so they could get the well up and running and producing, and as a result of that we were able to go from purchase order to installation in a period of eight weeks, which is incredibly quick for the industry, given that included the manufacture of the pipe.”
In the pipeline
With the seal of approval from Eni and Bourbon, Magma Global will be looking for more projects to use m-pipe on.
“I think Magma is going to be used more extensively in flowlines and jumpers, but the major strategic developments for us are around the use of m-pipe for riser systems, so this is potentially where it can deliver the most value to the industry,” Martin said.
“We’re working with TechnipFMC to include m-pipe in a hybrid flexible, so they’re looking to effectively capitalise on the some of benefits that m-pipe can bring in terms of light-weight and its corrosion resistance, so that’s a combination of flexible pipe technology and m-pipe.”
“We also have recently announced a deal with Ocyan. Ocyan are a contractor from Brazil, very much focused on Libra development, and that is again exploiting m-pipe in a riser tower.
“That’s extremely attractive in terms of reducing cost and also reducing the build time for the riser system, and it reduces the build times four or five fold, so a very significant saving.”
Since the 2014-2016 oil price slump, investment in new production has dropped off as companies prefer cost reduction and streamlining their existing assets. As oil prices rise, the industry will need to move quickly, both to take advantage of higher prices and to make up for any gaps in production caused by a lack of investment.
Magma Global’s m-pipe will be able to deliver a quick and cost-efficient solution for the new wave of upstream projects we are likely to see in the next few years.