National Physical Laboratory

Assessing oil and gas pipeline insulation

NPL temperature scientists have successfully tested the effectiveness of a new insulation material on underwater oil and gas pipes for VerdErg - a supplier of specialist equipment to the offshore energy industry.

The Challenge

The current price of oil and gas makes it financially viable for oil companies to exploit deeper and hotter fields, but this hotter oil and gas has a tendency to cool too rapidly within pipelines, leading to flow stoppages, the build-up of deposits, and ultimately to blockages.

One way to solve this problem is to insulate the pipes in order to slow down cooling but, although this can be done, it is difficult to completely insulate the connecting joints between the pipes.

To address this problem, VerdErg developed a mouldable insulation solution for a major oil company and have approached NPL for an impartial assessment of its thermal performance.

The Solution

NPL scientists performed an in-field evaluation of the thermal properties of this novel insulation material by developing and installing a solution to uniformly heat a five metre long, seven tonne section of steel oil pipeline to 60 °C, and monitor the temperature throughout the pipe with an array of sensors. The installation took place over two weeks at VerdErg's assembly facility in Birkenhead, Merseyside.

The pipe was then transported to Fort William in the Scottish Highlands and immersed to a depth of 10 metres in Loch Linnhe, where it was warmed to 60 °C to simulate the flow steady state. It was then allowed to cool while the temperature was monitored. Three warming/cooling cycles were performed over a period of eight days.

Section of pipeline  Lowering pipe into sea

(Left) The section of pipeline used in the measurement, and (right) lowering the pipe section into the cold waters of Loch Linnhe

The Impact

The challenging measurement was a complete success, exceeding the customer's expectations.

The data collected will be used to validate the thermal modelling performed by VerdErg and the confidence provided by NPL's measurements will help secure large scale deployment of the insulation material in the North Sea by the client.

Keith Taylor, VerdErg project manager, said that NPL's approach offered: "A thorough and professional solution to our requirements."

More on NPL's work on temperature measurement

For more information, please contact Jonathan Pearce or Claire Elliott

Last Updated: 11 Apr 2017
Created: 8 Sep 2011

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