USask Researcher Building Better Steel For Cold-Climate Oil And Gas Pipelines
The University of Saskatchewan has announced $770,000 in combined funding from Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and partners so that researchers can develop high-strength, cold-tolerant steel for pipelines.
“We would like to have a steel that’s at low temperatures more tolerant to structural defect,” engineering researcher Jerzy Szpunar told the Bulletin. “Toughness means that in a situation where there is defect, that steel will be resistant to propagating this defect and failure.”
He added: “The most important thing [with steel] for low-temperature environments from a microscopic point of view is high toughness.”
Working with EVRAZ Inc. and Natural Resources Canada’s CanmetMATERIALS research centre, the USask researcher is developing a new process for manufacturing high-strength steel adapted to low-temperatures (-45 C) for pipelines in Northern Canada and Arctic regions worldwide.
“There are various thermal-mechanical treatments designed to build certain structures that will be more resistant to failure at low-temperature environments,” said Szpunar.
Pipelines in cold areas face challenges such as terrain frozen by permafrost or gouged by sheets of ice, according to the university. Szpunar’s research could improve the safety of oil and gas transportation, thus opening a new market for manufacturers, and reducing the environmental damage if a pipeline fails in a sub-arctic environment.
Even though currently there is much public discourse about a clean energy transition, noted Szpunar, in fact oil and natural gas will comprise a major component of the total energy mix for many years to come, and these non-renewable hydrocarbons are a limited resource.
Therefore, he said, for the sake of the energy future, the Far North will be increasingly prospective for its billions of bbls of untapped oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas. Transporting these hydrocarbons safely will be vital. “In general, this is the problem we see: There is a need for exploration of the North, but there’s also a lot of risk.”
While there are other efforts to make cold-resistant steel for pipelines, Szpunar believes those efforts are somewhat limited. His approach is not only to tailor the steel for certain environments, but also to explore the possibilities of improving crystallographic orientation of the steel and texture for benefit in cold-climate applications.
“At present, we are working with Evraz, which is a leading manufacturer of pipeline steel in North America. We are very closely collaborating with them. And so, if we have some specimen that we expect will be performing better, then we hope that within this project, for which we’ve now obtained [some] financing, we can directly implement this concept into the production of steel by Evraz.
“That definitely will be important for Canada and Evraz in the sense they’ll be receiving something that’s given advantage in the present market.”
For this research, he added, Evraz and Canmet provide facilities for simulation of different rolling conditions. With more funding, Szpunar told the DOB, researchers could develop cold-resistant steel more quickly for use by industry. He hopes any companies transporting oil and natural gas might also support these efforts, allowing for more resources and faster results, which ultimately benefits the whole energy sector.
“In general, we have to very much evaluate materials used for pipelines in the context of service environments in which these pipelines serve. That’s not yet clearly understood. As a parameter of steel, we should not talk about the strength. We should talk about the environment in which these pipelines are used, and how failures are generated. These mechanisms of failure are very different in different types of environments.”
He added: “The test we do on steel is toughness in -60 C or something. We’d like the steel to have this transition from ductile to brittle at very low temperatures, so that it’s still ductile.”