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4 April, 2018 - 11:10 By Kate Sweeney

Innovation in pipeline as Aramco founds Cambridge hothouse

World-leading oil & gas company Aramco, which has its roots in Saudi Arabia, has partnered with materials technology leader TWI and the National Structural Integrity Research Centre to establish a significant global hothouse in Cambridge.

The new, multi-stakeholder Non-Metallic Innovation Centre (NIC) will be based at TWI’s Granta Park mother ship.

NIC will conduct a research programme that covers Technology Readiness Levels (TRL) 1-9, with partners drawn from leading academic institutions, research centres, oil & gas companies and composite materials manufacturers. Alongside the launch of NIC, Aramco also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with TWI.

Following the success of their innovation centres, Aramco, along with TWI and NSIRC, came together to form a Private Technology Innovation Partnership (PTIP). The collaboration will connect Aramco with composites manufacturers, academic insti-tutions and industrial partners wanting to make an impact on the oil and gas industry and beyond.

The nine innovation centres already established by NSIRC and TWI strive to achieve technological excellence and the advancement of research to meet socio-economic and environmental challenges.

They are connected with industry to share research and technological capabilities, while undertaking combined research programmes that develop future technologies and highly skilled engineers in selected research fields.

As centres for research and development, PTIPs work with private technology organisations to commercialise technology with sponsors and their supply chain. They also foster home-grown innovation and work closely with customers to address their technology priorities. The aims of PTIPs are to boost entrepreneurship, grow the knowledge based economy, increase technology exports, promote innovation, and strengthen talent bases through strong academia-industry linkages.

NIC will develop ready to deploy non-metallic technologies for field applications. Aramco conducted an initial internal examination that demonstrated how the slow penetration rate of non-metallic pipes and other equipment in the oil and gas industry is primarily related to the technical limitations of current products, in terms of temperature/pressure and chemical compatibility, and their failure to address new field challenges (increasing temperature cut and H2S/CO2 levels). 

This is perpetuated by the lack of reliable inspection and fitness for service assessment methodologies of in-service composite pipes. Another issue is the lack of confidence in the long term performance of non-metallic pipes and their potential degradation with ageing.

The oil and gas industry currently has high volume fraction of polymer in a composite pipe (40-50 per cent) stretching across a colossal pipeline network (over 2 million kilometres worldwide).

This presents an opportunity to expand the demand for polymers, but before this is possible, research and development activities must initially be focused on four key areas.

The first area is expanding the operating envelope of polymer composites pipes. The second focuses on advanced polymer liners, followed by the monitoring and inspection of non-metallic composite structures. The final area looks at the fitness for service, lifetime prediction and rehabilitation of these structures.

Professor Tat-Hean Gan, NIC programme director said: “NSIRC combines academia and industry so that there is an unbroken chain between universities producing high level research and industries that require research for real world applications. 

“By joining with Aramco to set up NIC, we can be assured of producing industry-led, high level research, with a complete supply chain from R & D to production.”

From the beginning, NIC will be an integral part of the Innovation Network, providing world leading research into non-metallic structures, to the benefit of Aramco and the advance of technologies within the greater industry.

• PHOTOGRAPH: Back row, from left: Dr Abderrazak Traidia, SA senior lab scientist, Dr Abdullah Al-Shahrani, SA science specialist, Dr Konstantinos Vatopoulos, Aramco Overseas Downstream Technologies Group leader, Heather Claxton, Operations Manager of NSIRC and TWI Innovation Centres, Dr Slim Soua, Innovation Centre section manager. Front: Prof Tat-Hean Gan, NIC Programme director and Dr Ihsan Taie, SA Oil & Gas Network Integrity chief technologist.

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