Improving testing and repair of oil and gas pipelines
Novel testing and maintenance methods for oil and gas pipelines developed by EU-funded researchers are helping to ensure the reliability and safety of the extensive pipeline networks that are critical to Europe's energy security.
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More than 200 000 kilometres of pipelines criss-cross the EU, supplying hundreds of millions of tonnes of gas, oil and liquid petroleum products each year, much of it from Russia and other third countries. Working with partners in these supplier and transit states, including Ukraine and Belarus, researchers from the INNOPIPES project sought to optimise testing of the reliability, structural integrity and safety of these crucial pipelines, as well as define best practice recommendations for enhanced maintenance and repair techniques.
INNOPIPES focused on a widespread problem affecting many pipeline networks: so-called volumetric surface defects that arise as a result of corrosion or combined erosion-corrosion processes that considerably decrease pipeline material strength and structural integrity. The problem becomes increasingly acute as pipelines age and poses a heightened risk to the more than 20 % of Europes pipelines that are over 40 years old and nearing the end of their intended lifespan.
If implemented widely, the methods developed in INNOPIPES would improve the security of pipeline networks and extend their lifespan, reducing operating costs and helping to ensure reliable supplies of natural gas, oil and other liquid petroleum products, says project coordinator Evgeny Barkanov of the Institute of Materials and Structures at Riga Technical University in Latvia. It would also mitigate the risks of environmentally harmful leaks and other damage.
To detect defects accurately and efficiently, without shutting down supplies or risking damage to the pipes, the INNOPIPES team evaluated the application of long-range ultrasonic testing technology, which uses directional sound waves to detect weak spots and areas of corrosion.
By collecting ultrasonic data on numerous pipelines, the team was able to develop comprehensive methods to accurately characterise and diagnose damage in different pipeline sections. The approach offers an alternative to the routine use of machines known as Pipeline Inspection Gauges. These so-called Smart PIGs are inserted into pipelines for monitoring and diagnostics a costly and labour-intensive system that may fail to find small areas of corrosion at an early stage.
Having addressed the need for enhanced pipeline diagnostics, the INNOPIPES team studied the application of improved maintenance and repair techniques. They focused on analysing the advantages and disadvantages of a range of composite fibre, rubber and resin materials that can be used to strengthen defective areas and restore pipeline integrity without shutting down flows.
Using a range of tests, previous research studies, information from pipeline operating companies and the experience of project partners, the team built a comprehensive database containing information on all current composite repair systems and providing best practice recommendations about materials and techniques.
Several methods developed by the project, as well as associated technologies, are currently being used for prototype system testing by partner companies. INNOPIPES has also led to the signing of five academic collaboration agreements among project participants, as well as plans to launch follow-up research initiatives with EU and national funding.
In addition to the technical achievements, a key outcome of INNOPIPES has been the strengthening of research partnerships through staff exchanges and networking activities between organisations from EU member states and third countries that together can help improve the maintenance and security of Europes crucial energy pipelines, Barkanov says.
INNOPIPES received funding through the EUs Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions programme.