Oil companies seek more ways to fight corrosion

Oil and gas companies have a lot at stake when it comes to identifying and dealing with corrosion. Not only can any breakdowns in their pipelines or storage systems lead to huge repair and clean-up costs, it can also do serious environmental damage. For that reason, it's vital for companies to do all they can to fight corrosion at its source, and fortunately, it seems their ability to do so continues to improve.

While the manufacturing of corrosion-resistant coatings hasn't changed much in recent years – as there are only so many advancements that can be made by modern science – companies remain hard at work trying to develop new applications for the chemicals they produce, according to Beirbal Bhandari, regional manager of technical sales support for performance coatings at Jotun, speaking with Oil and Gas. This is not, however, to say there haven't been improvements made; in some ways, the same compounds are being made more effective than ever, requiring smaller amounts of the coatings to be applied to get the same level of effectiveness, as well as increased durability.

In doing so, manufacturers are reducing the cost to buyers, as they need to both buy less of the chemicals and apply them less frequently, Bhandari told the site. This is a benefit for companies on all sides of the market simply because there are far fewer gas and oil construction projects these days than there used to be, so maintenance of older sites has become the big focus for many companies.

Corrosion at refineries and on pipelines remains a primary concern.Corrosion at refineries and on pipelines remains a primary concern.

Practical applications
The U.S.-based materials manufacturer Sherwin-Williams and Spanish contracting giant Tecnicas Reunidas recently collaborated on a clean fuels project that produced a new anti-corrosion product for use in a refinery operated by Saudi oil company Aramco, according to Hydrocarbon Engineering. Here, too, the idea was to create a single compound that would save Aramco both money and time, in terms of application, with the unique challenge of dealing with higher ambient temperatures present at the Middle Eastern processing facility.

However, the product met all Aramco engineering standards for a corrosion under insulation coating, and can be applied to steel or stainless steel directly, making it perfect for many different manufacturing settings, including within the oil industry, the report said. Emre Karapinar, Project Development Manager for Sherwin-Williams, noted that the new coating – known as Heat-Flex Hi-Temp 1200 – had to be a single, versatile product to meet Aramco's needs.

Out in front of the issues
Because all such systems are going to break down over time through wear and tear, companies now recognize the need to be far more proactive about fighting corrosion, according to Machine Design. The problem is that in many cases, these issues begin at the nano scale, meaning they are extraordinarily difficult to identify as they begin, and only after some time will they become visible to the human eye.

Recently, a team at Sandia National Laboratories discovered that many types of steel corrosion start at this low level, where cementite and ferrite meet during the production process itself, kickstarting corrosion, the report said. Wherever grains of those chemicals meet (one of cementite and two of ferrite), at what are known as "triple junctions," liquid corrosion takes root as common chemicals move through pipelines.

"Our transmission electron microscopes were a key piece of this work, letting us image the sample, observe the corrosion process, and do microanalysis before and after corrosion occurred to identify the part played by the ferrite and cementite grains and the corrosion product," Sandia researcher Paul Kotula told the site.

Part of the reason this research is so potentially groundbreaking is that it's impossible to use electron microscopes in the field where this kind of corrosion actually takes place over time, and was recreated using pipe samples in the lab, the report said. This kind of work may allow even more research related to manufacturing processes that can further reduce corrosion.

The next generation
Of course, fighting corrosion at the chemical level isn't likely to be 100% effective any time soon, if ever, so tech developers still have to come up with new ways to identify areas where corrosion could be taking hold, according to CIO Review. To that end, a robotics company in California is developing robots as small as 1 centimeter hat can fly, walk and swim, and is intended to work in gas pipelines and other industrial sites where corrosion is common.

Simply put, many of the places where corrosion may happen in these facilities are not easily accessible for humans, and tiny robots that can travel nearly 3 kilometers – equipped with high-definition, movable cameras, scanning tools and laser measurement equipment – could prove invaluable, the report said.

Certainly, any company in the oil and gas field is already hard at work trying to fight corrosion before it becomes a big problem. However, the more they can do to understand their options, the better off they are likely to be going forward.