This week’s Pipeliners Podcast episode features Chris Alexander discussing composite repairs, how to properly use a composite, and how the technology works.
In this episode, you will learn about the history of composites and ways they have improved, as well as what their future looks like and the pros and cons behind composite repairs.
Advances in Composite Repair Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms:
- Chris Alexander is the President of ADV Integrity, Inc.. Connect with Chris on LinkedIn.
- ADV Integrity, Inc. (ADV) is an engineering consulting firm focused on providing custom engineered solutions for asset integrity assessment and management of onshore and offshore oil and gas equipment. We serve clients in the upstream, midstream, and downstream sectors.
- Composites are used to create high-pressure pipelines that are resistant to corrosion and erosion.
- Clock Spring is a system of related fiber-glass and resin matrix products used to repair defects in pipes, arrest ductile fractures in high-pressure pipelines, reinforce dents or other mechanical defects in high-pressure pipelines, protect pipe at support location, and repair defects in low-pressure pipelines.
- Gas Technology Institute is an American non-profit research and development organization which develops, demonstrates, and licenses new energy technologies for private and public clients, with a particular focus on the natural gas industry.
- API (American Petroleum Institute) represents all segments of America’s natural gas and oil industry. API has developed more than 700 standards to enhance operational and environmental safety, efficiency, and sustainability.
- PHMSA (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration) is responsible for providing pipeline safety oversight through regulatory rule-making, NTSB recommendations, and other important functions to protect people and the environment through the safe transportation of energy and other hazardous materials.
- Modulus is the measurement of a material’s elasticity.
- IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit) measures the pipe curvature using a combination of accelerometers and gyroscopes.
- A Joint Industry Project (JIP) is a work program of mutual interest between multiple parties to develop new solutions, exclusive knowledge, standards and recommended practices that add value by solving industry challenges.
- ILI (In-line Inspection) is a method to assess the integrity and condition of a pipeline by determining the existence of corrosion, cracks, deformations, or other structural issues that could cause a leak.
- CTAG (Composite Technology Advancement Group) unites people and organizations interested in the advancement of composite technologies deployed in the energy industry.
- SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) is a system of software and technology that allows pipeliners to control processes locally or at remote locations.
Advances in Composite Repair Full Episode Transcript:
Russel Treat: Welcome to “The Pipeliner’s Podcast,” episode 283, sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute, driving safety, environmental protection, and sustainability across the natural gas and oil industry through world class standards and safety programs.
Since its formation as a standard setting organization in 1919, API has developed more than 800 standards to enhance industry operations worldwide. Find out more about API at API.org.
Announcer: The Pipeliner’s Podcast, where professionals, Bubba geeks, and industry insiders share their knowledge and experience about technology, projects, and pipeline operations.
Now, your host, Russel Treat.
Russel: Thanks for listening to The Pipeliner’s Podcast. I appreciate you taking the time. To show that appreciation, we give away a customized YETI tumbler to one listener every episode. This week, our winner is Joel Banwellos with Uniting Refining. Congratulations, Joel. Your YETI’s on its way. To learn how you can win this signature prize, stick around until the end of the episode.
This week, we speak to Dr. Chris Alexander with ADV Integrity about advances in composite repair. Chris, welcome to The Pipeliner’s Podcast.
Chris Alexander: Thanks, Russel. It’s good to be with you this morning.
Russel: We have a lot in common, between Texas A&M and the Aggie band and such. We spend a lot of time talking about that. This time, we’re going to talk about pipeline.
Chris: That’s OK.
Russel: If you would, tell the listeners a little bit about your background and how you got to be with ADV.
Chris: As Russel said, my name’s Chris Alexander. I’m the president and founder of ADV Integrity. I hate to admit it. I started working 30 years ago. I went to A&M, got an undergraduate, and wanted to be a fighter pilot, which probably relates to my love of composites.
I met a pretty blonde my junior year. She was two years behind me so I just stayed and got a master’s and focused on school instead of shining shoes like you and I can relate to.
We moved down here in 1993 and moved into a little one bedroom apartment. I had no idea what my life would be like and I went to work for a consulting company called Stress Engineering Services, which was a great company. It was probably not a lot bigger than ADV is now. Started by Joe Fowler, who’s a great Aggie class of ’68.
Had a great career and actually wound up getting my PhD, driving back and forth from Cypress to College Station. It only took 10 years. We had a couple of kids and bought a house in that time period. I eventually got done.
Interestingly, I got my PhD in composite repair technology. It’s geeky, but if you Google composite pipeline repair, my guess is I’m going to be somewhere in the top 5 to 10 Google. That’s part of my brand.
Probably about six or seven years ago, I started thinking about doing something a little different. Although I’ve got three degrees in mechanical engineering, I really like people and I love business. Some of it’s Joe Fowler’s impact on my life and another gentleman, Fred Wilson, who passed away. I had some mentors early in my life who were really good business people.
Almost six years ago, June of 2017, I left the nest, so to speak, and started ADV and worked out of my house for about a year and a half, and prayed every day, “Dear God, please help the phone ring.” Today, we’ve got about 25 people in the organization. We’re looking at buying a company later this year.
I built an org chart for the end of this year. We’ll probably have over 40 people. It’s just got a really good group of people. We have a full scale test lab, failure analysis, and finite element modeling. Most days, I’m living the American dream.
Russel: I can relate to starting a business and praying for the phone to ring.
Chris: Nothing like it, is there?
Russel: I will say God’s been faithful.
Chris: That’s good.
Russel: Maybe not as faithful as I would like, but probably more faithful than I deserve.
Chris: That’s a good way of saying it.
Russel: Tell me a little bit about what you guys do at ADV and what makes you unique?
Chris: Like you, I really love the pipeline industry. I know you get some young people that listen to this, and I love talking to young people. They’re starry eyed and they have all these dreams. Having a lot of young engineers and even marketing people on staff, I sometimes turn into the father, grandfather.
At ADV, our core client is two groups of people. Last year, we worked for 75 companies. 25 of those are the pipeline companies, so the people you know – ExxonMobil, TC Energy. I could list all of them. They’re the people that we have a really strong relationship with.
Then there’s another set, it’s the technology companies. There’s a real different need. The technology companies, the reason we have a full scale test lab is we validate their technologies. For the operators, oftentimes, we’re helping them understand how they can use a technology to make their pipeline safer.
We’re obviously going to talk about composites today. Do we wrap a composite on the outside? Do we pull a composite on the inside? It’s like the filling in the Oreo cookie. We’re in between these two groups of people that we really provide an independent assessment of technology.
We’ve got some really smart guys. I probably have the lowest IQ in the company, which I’m OK with. I have a high EQ. We got some really smart guys and clients call us with problems. What’s really neat now is we’ve got five or six senior guys. Probably the average age of our engineers is mid 30s. These guys are building a reputation and a brand, and clients are calling them.
Right now, I bet we got 50 or 60 projects going. Sometimes a client will ask me about a project we’re working on and I don’t even know about it because we’ve gotten to the critical mass size that I really wanted when I started this thing six years ago.
Basically, I describe it as special forces engineering. People have a problem. They don’t want to pay an engineer for five years to solve the problem. They give us some money and three to six months to solve the problem. We do it and we pull out. Then the next time they have a problem, they bring us back in.
We have some clients that we’ll do a lot of work for and then they’ll tailor off, and then a couple of years from now, there’s this steady stream. I feel a little bit like an orchestra director. As we have more and more leadership within the company, we have a lot more of these curves going.
The goal is, what’s the old saying, the trend is your friend. You want the business to grow as you’re developing your staff. You know this because you’ve run a business. The technical part is very important. The part, especially as engineers, sometimes that we miss is the people part’s really the reason that people stay at companies.
It’s a reason that they stay up late at night. They get up in the morning. Angst is maybe not the right word, but the thing I think the most about is I want the employees just to have a great experience and really enjoy working in ADV.
Russel: I’ve certainly seen a transition in my experience since I’ve started. I went to A&M, civil engineer, structural option, thinking I was going to build bridges and high rises and ended up in the Air Force building runways and hangars.
It’s interesting, when I look back, I realize that I really like the engineering piece, but I really like building things. I really like solving problems. People that become engineers become engineers because they like to solve problems. Generally, problems are solved, particularly big problems, complex problems are solved by teams.
Chris: I agree. The other reason is…
Russel: Teams are people.
Chris: Exactly. It’s the stuff that our professors didn’t teach us at A&M. It’s like it’s all about the people. On the other hand, and you’re obviously a testimony to this, as Joe Fowler and some of the people I’ve known, when you have an engineer who is good with people and likes to solve problems, you can become a good business person, because as engineers, we’re taught processes.
In fact, my dad was a professor of mechanical engineering at A&M for 30 years. He and I talk a lot about processes. Once that’s in your DNA, when you come out of school, if you want to build a business, you have a real advantage over a lot of other disciplines because you understand that everything needs to be sequential and there’s a process to it.
That’s my theory as a mechanical engineer, is that if you get in the right environment, engineers can become very good business people. Maybe not all.
Russel: That’s a whole different conversation.
I’m just going to let that statement stop there. I’ve worked with probably 50 different companies run by engineers over my career where I was trying to help them commercialize technology.
Chris: That’s not easy.
Russel: I would say some engineers can become good business people. Some engineers cannot.
Chris: Exactly. There’s a few out there that can. It’s probably a minority.
Russel: That’s OK.
Chris: That’s true.
Russel: Let me ask you this. I’ve asked you to come on to talk about composite repair. Probably a good place to start, because not everybody that listens to this knows what composite repair is, why don’t we do a quick definition of what composite repair is and maybe a little bit of its history?
Chris: That’s great. Historically, we have pipelines we’re running today that are 70, 80. I even heard recently it’s over a hundred years old. Historically, up until about 30 years ago, the way we would repair pipelines is you’d weld a steel sleeve on it.
It was either a rolled plate like Alan Edwards makes, or it was pre-tested pipe. You weld it and you weld the ends. If it’s a type B sleeve and you bury it and you forget about it. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, a technology called clock spring, everybody knows about it, came on the market and there was a group called the Gas Research Institute, which is now the Gas Technology Institute out of Chicago. They basically put a bunch of money into evaluating this composite technology.
That’s about the time I came on the scene. I started testing clock spring in ’94. Not too long after that I started testing armor plate. I could literally write a book, I probably tested 50 different technologies over the past 30 years and we’ve advanced the technology.
Today’s technologies, we’re using advanced carbon that we use on BMWs and airplanes. The ability that we have to reinforce today’s pipelines is significantly better than what we were doing 30 years ago, which was primarily limited to corrosion. You have a corrosion defect, you put a clock spring on it.
Today we repair corrosion, dents, and mechanical damage. We’re just, matter of fact, in the lab today we’re testing a pipe that’s got cracks in it using high modulus carbon materials that 30 years ago we wouldn’t have even dreamed of.
Russel: Yeah. 30 years ago you’d have had to cut that piece of pipe out and weld something new in.
Chris: I was pretty fortunate. I mentioned Fred Wilson. Fred started Armor Plate and he was just a great guy. We got to be good friends. He passed away a few years ago. We traveled around the world. He had put me up in front of a group of people and I was in my 20s, and I’d start talking about composites.
I get asked these really hard questions. What’s funny Russell is I’ll be 55 in September this year. Back 30 or 25 years ago, I’d walk into a room of guys my age, and especially if they’re West Texas and I’d go, “Hey, college boy, I’m not putting glue and string on my pipeline.”
Which is really what composites are, right? You got fibers but they are not strings you can go get at Lowe’s or something. You got fibers in glue. At the end of the day, a lot of times I’ll go talk to high school and college kids and I’ll bring two materials.
I have one that’s just the fabric, and then I have another one that’s a panel and I’m like, “What’s the difference between these two materials?” One’s a fabric and it looks like something my wife would sew with, and then the other one has got glue.
I said the only difference between these two is one’s got an epoxy. The other part of it is this material I’m showing you, this has a tensile strength of 150,000 psi. It’s stronger than the steel that we’re putting on the pipeline.
Anyway, as I said, I’ve spent most of my career, probably if you look at all the projects, I’ve probably done a couple thousand projects, well over half of those are focused on composites. I keep a running tally. We’ve probably done $25 or $30 million in research since I finished my PhD back in ’07.
We’re continuing to do it. Matter of fact Buddy Powers, who I know you know, he and Skip Elliot and I were in Washington, DC this week, and we went to go see a couple of people. One of the folks that we went to see was Mark Piats at API.
We’re in the process of putting basically an RP together for providing guidance for the pipeline industry to use composites. We originally were going to meet with Alan Mayberry and the folks at PHMSA. There’s a lot of interest actually, Alan wanted to talk to us about composite technologies, which is the whole reason we’re going to go up there.
It’s very, I know, I hate to use the word very in vogue right now, but we’ve learned a lot. One of the reasons I think that we get phone calls is, if I’m going to have eye surgery or a heart transplant, I want to go talk to the guy that’s blown up a thousand pipes that we put composites on because you just accumulate so much experience.
As you know, with your Air Force background, there’s what’s the old saying? There’s old pilots, there’s bold pilots, but there are no old bold pilots. The reason why is that experience that you get, it helps bring a healthy level of conservatism, if you will.
Russel: I think one of the things about composites, certainly composites have come a long way. I graduated A&M in 1980 and composites really weren’t even in the vernacular. They were just starting to do research projects on carbon fibers and trying to understand what they were and how they might apply them.
Over my career, I’ve likely tracked that stuff, but what’s interesting to me is in a lot of application, carbon fiber, composites, and all that are replacing classic types of steel and aluminum construction. They’re building cars and aircrafts.
In fact, I’m a big sailor. I love sailboats and a lot of the new sailboats, instead of building them out of fiberglass epoxy, they’re building them out of carbon fiber as the main structural element. Then they’re going fiber lax epoxy over that to build up protection against the seawater, barnacle growth, and all that kind of stuff.
The boats are very much lighter and very much stronger than they were. You go and you look at a boat that was built in the ’70s and the fiberglass will be three inches, four inches thick. You look at a boat built in the 2010s and that same boat, the fiberglass is an inch thick.
The inch thick is stronger than the four inches thick. That’s the part that’s mind blowing. Then the other thing they’re learning and this is actually one of the things I wanted to talk to you about, is because these epoxies and new materials, these composites are so much stronger than steel. They can actually create problems if they’re not applied correctly.
All of that to tee up the question, what kind of problems can composites create?
Chris: There’s a couple things, Russell, and I think one is it goes more, I’m not a metallurgist, but if you talk to the metallurgist, it goes back to the chemistry that if you use carbon, which people are turning to go towards.
E glass was very in vogue probably in the ’90s, although it’s still really good. But carbon, if you put carbon fiber and you put it on carbon steel you can form a galvanic cell. A concern is that you actually get corrosion that would take place.
Sometimes that’s something you have to be careful of. Most of the people that use carbon composite technology, they’ll actually put a very thin layer of E glass so you get an electrical isolation. It basically makes the problem go away.
To some degree, it was funny because anytime a new technology comes out, it’s a pretty competitive industry, so there’s 5 to 10 companies. As soon as somebody does something different, everybody tries to shoot the guy down who’s different. Then, five years later, everybody’s doing the same thing. It’s kind of funny, just to see the dynamic.
The other thing, and you have a very good point, that you’ve got these technologies. They may be stronger than steel. Like I mentioned, we’re testing some composite carbon technology right now that has 150,000 PSI tensile strength. It’s reinforcing a vintage pipe that’s 60,000.
The difference, though I won’t get super technical, is the modulus. The modulus of steel is about 30 million pounds per square inch. These carbon technologies have about half the modulus.
That actually is a good thing because what it means is when you’re putting the composite on there, you begin to load the composite up. It’s not like you have this huge discontinuity where it’s really stiff. The way that the more advanced composite repair companies get away with it, they actually taper the material.
Let’s say it’s a half inch thick. Then, they taper it over probably a 6 to 12 inch distance. It eventually goes away. It’s exactly what they do in the aircraft industry. Up by the wing where it butts up to the fuselage…
Russel: If I could back you up a second for people that maybe don’t know, can you give a definition of modulus?
Chris: Modulus is the stiffness of the material. Think about a spring. Something that has a very high modulus, which steel does, it’s very stiff. You think about rubber, rubber has a modulus but it’s very low, like a rubber band.
The way, in the engineering world, the aircraft industry, the pipeline industry, we take advantage of a material’s moduli or a modulus based on orientation of fibers and all those things. That’s one of the things, to me, that makes composites really interesting, is I can orient fibers in different directions.
As a matter of fact, Monday, before I got on a plane to go to DC, we did a tensile test. We had a defective girth well. We reinforced that girth well with carbon with the fibers running down the axis of the pipe.
When we loaded it, we had the fibers in that direction. We’re going to blow us some pipe up next week where we’re reinforcing longitudinal cracks. In that repair, the fibers are going around the pipe. To me, that’s the really neat thing about composites, is what do you want to reinforce? You can design the architecture so it provides the greatest level of reinforcement.
Russel: That’s one of the things I think is really fascinating. I wish the listeners…for the listeners’ benefit, when I do these recordings, usually, I’m on video with the person I’m talking to, and then I just share them as audio only. I’m watching Chris and he’s moving his hands and he’s doing all these old…
Chris: Like a politician, moving my hands.
Russel: He’s doing his illustrations with his hands about the fiber orientation, and the modulus, and all that kind of stuff. I’m keeping track of it because I’m an engineer and I understand that way of speaking, but it won’t translate well on a podcast.
Chris: I’ll avoid getting on the whiteboard and putting the equations up.
Russel: You can do that for me. I would enjoy that.
Chris: It’s geeky fun.
Russel: Let’s talk a little bit about composites and the ability to orient the fibers in different directions. What are the things that we know are better reinforced with longitudinal fibers versus circumferential, and then same question the other way around?
Chris: That’s a great question. Historically, if you look at all the defects or features you can get in a pipeline, we’ll start with the very basics, corrosion. Corrosion, if it’s going to fail, typically it’s going to fail due to hoop stress.
For the listeners who are engineers, you understand it’s PR/T, pressure times radius divided by the wall thickness. In that scenario, you want the fibers running around the pipe. It’s like a hoop, which is where they came from that expression, hoop on a wheel. Dents are very similar.
The maximum principal stress is typically longitudinally oriented, so you want most of the fibers…dents are a little unique, in that you do want some fibers running in the axial direction. As that dent bulges, you’re going to get some bending in the opposite plane. That tends to be a little bit more balanced.
Cracks, you very much want to have a maximum reinforcement in the hoop direction for a longitudinally oriented crack. It’s those categories. Somebody calls and says, “Hey, I want to reinforce planar defects and low frequency or WC.” you need to be thinking about a higher modulus carbon that’s got primarily hoop oriented fibers.
Now let’s shift over to the other side of the table, and I’ll stop using my hands.
Russel: Go ahead because I’m enjoying it.
Chris: Those of you who are listening by audio, you’re missing the whole show. The other area which is probably in the evolution of composite reinforcement is more the past probably 10 years, is things like geohazard loading.
I know you’ve had people on your podcast that talk a lot about that. In that scenario, you’ve got things like girth welds, wrinkle bends. Features that are subject to fail due to typically axial tension or bending loads.
A matter of fact, we’ve actually done a lot of tests the past six weeks on a couple of technologies where we’re pulling things apart. We’ve got a three million foot pound bending frame. The guys are actually setting up. We’re going to do a test on Monday.
We’ve got some 30 inch old AO Smith pipe. We actually have a weld from the 1950s, it’s like 1953, that we put a defect in. We’re going to bend the heck out of it. We want it bending the pipe outside the composite. In that scenario, that particular reinforcement primarily has axial fibers.
I work with the company. We design something. Probably 80 percent of the fibers are running down the access of the pipe. I have no doubt it’s going to do great. If we didn’t know what we’ve known over the past 15 years, we might just go out there and put a hoop reinforcement system on there, and it would not do nearly as well.
Russel: That’s one of the things that I’m learning through this podcast about integrity engineering, where’s it’s two things that are going on. One of the things that’s going on is we’re better understanding the forces that are acting on the pipe. We’re getting better at modeling it.
Because of computational power and because of the ability to manage big data sets, we’re able to look at multiple threats and better understand what those threats actually mean in the context of the pipe and its capacity and life. That’s a good thing.
The other thing that’s going on simultaneously is we’re really looking at new methods and alternative methods of repair, because as we find these new kinds of threats, new kinds of loads, and understand them better, we need new kinds of repairs to address them.
Chris: That’s exactly right. Part of it, too, is you have adjacent technologies. As the allied technologies get better, we’re able to find features. I’ve always loved the concept of the IMU tool and being able to really monitor how the pipeline’s moving over a period of time.
Just a little bit of a war story. We had an operator that had a failure in a girth weld, which nobody likes as an industry and it was a large diameter pipe. They reached out to us and said, “Can we use composites to reinforce this?” I said, “Yeah, the answer is yes, we can.” I knew that because we’ve done tests before.
I said, “We need to run a program because anytime you’re going to do that, the regulators are going to come in and say, ‘What are you doing? How can you prove to us it works?'” We did a very extensive study. We did finite element modeling and we got really good at that. We went out to the lab and did some full scale testing, four tests on 30 inch pipe.
We laid strain gauges underneath the composite, which is a stress geek. I love this stuff. You could actually demonstrate the composite when it kicked in. It was unbelievable. The failure in an unreinforced girth weld was about 1.5 percent. We went to an even higher load.
We buckled the pipe outside the composite and the strain adjacent to the girth weld that if we hadn’t had anything on there was 1.5 percent, it was about 0.15 percent. We reduced the strain by an order of magnitude.
What I love about that story is it was a really good project. We’ve been able to present that out in public. What it means is when you reinforce that girth weld, it’s no longer a problem. It’s no longer the weak link in the system, which is, as an engineer, when someone comes to see us, my goal is to help the problem go away.
They wound up reinforcing somewhere between 20 and 25 girth welds they were concerned about based on the fact of two things. Number one, they had had a failure. Number two, they had run an IMU tool and they knew the areas of this pipeline system that were most susceptible to having problems. It’s a great success story.
Russel: If you’re running a risk, got a fault tree, or something like that, you know as you make those repairs what impact you’re having on your overall safety performance.
Chris: That’s exactly right.
Russel: Because you did the other mathematical basis for that, you have a mechanism for validating that improvement.
Chris: Exactly. It’s part of your risk management that once I reinforce these, I move on to the next thing, because as integrity folks, we’re never done.
Chris: What’s the old saying? Corrosion never sleeps.
Russel: One of the things that people outside of our industry don’t really understand is the age of the pipe really is not material to its health. What’s material is how well has that pipe been managed, because metal without corrosion or defect doesn’t lose its strength.
Chris: Exactly. That’s different than composites. We tend to over design composites because we know, typically, especially with E glass, that there’s a loss in strength as a function of time. It’s not the end of the world. We know that because we have all the data.
When we design it, we typically have larger safety factors than we do in a steel pipeline. That’s part of this process as well, understanding that.
Russel: What’s new in composites? What’s the state of the art? What are people looking at right now?
Chris: We’re not done. I would say one of the things that’s really interesting to me is in 2018, I had a gentleman from Chevron who called me. Another part of my story is that I love joint industry projects. I’ve done about 30 or 31 of them.
You get a lot of smart people in the room and say, “Hey, we’ve got a problem. It’s a million dollar problem. If 10 of you will put $100,000 in, we can solve it.” There’s an art to it. A lot of the research I’ve done on composite repairs has been funded by operators and these technology companies.
The operator called me and said, “Look, we’ve had some incidents with a spoolable composite pipe. Typically, we’re having issues with the connectors.” He goes, “I’ve got a little bit of money. I need you to put one of your JIPs together because we can’t solve it with the money that I’ve got.”
This was 2018. I was still working out of the house. We rented a room at one of the local hotels. We probably had 8 or 10 operators. We actually put a JIP together and we called it the CLASPS 01. I also love acronyms. CLASPS stands for Combined Loading Assessment of Spoolable Pipe Systems. A guy from Exxon made that up.
Russel: That sounds like a great multi-letter engineer acronym. Man, I love it.
Chris: Nobody understands us. Now we’re on the CLASPS 02. What’s really interesting, Russel, these spoolable technologies, and we’re doing a lot of work. Chantz Denowh who’s the VP of our lab, and he’s a great engineer, but that’s mostly what he does. I’m the composite repair guy and he’s doing a lot of work with these spoolable technologies.
There’s probably five to seven of these technology companies out there. They basically make spoolable composite pipe. Typically, they’re up to about six to eight inches in diameter. They’ve got typically a plastic liner. Then you have some fiber on the outside and then there’s another plastic on the outside.
You spool these things up. You can spool a couple hundred feet, maybe even up to 600 or 700 feet. What’s really nice about these technologies is because they’re non-metallic, they don’t corrode if you’ve got sour service.
What’s really interesting, if you look at the future, which is why PHMSA was interested in talking to us this week, is the future is if we start transporting hydrogen, specifically hydrogen but maybe even CO2, and you have some older pipelines, can you take these composite pipes, pull them through the inside?
You’ve been around like I have for a while. There’s a technology called Smart Pipe. My good friend, Gary Littlestar, he and I typically talk every couple of weeks. We’ve been working with them and Enbridge. They’re getting ready to do a project that’s just going to be great for the industry. It’s a composite pipe you’re going to pull through an existing pipe.
If I look in the next, I figure I’ve probably got another 10 years to continue working, 10 years, this is going to be a big part of our industry. The spoolable pipes were not necessarily invented for that. They were invented primarily for the gathering industry where you have sour service.
We did a big project for then TransCanada, now TC Energy, where we looked at pulling flex steel through pipe. It’s excellent. We tested it every which way that we could and it performed very well.
Russel: It’s a cost effective way to remediate pipe and give it a very heavy lift. It makes a lot of sense. It’d be interesting to get somebody on the podcast to talk about spoolable pipe, inserting it.
What does that really take, because how do you join a pipe inside of a pipeline? How long can you push it? What do I do if I’ve got two entry points and they’re 54 miles away? How do I push a 54 miles pipe? I don’t.
Chris: I’m having lunch with some guys today that we’re talking about a project. I’ll maybe provide you their name after the podcast to see…
Russel: If they’re open to sharing what they’re doing, I’d love to get them on because that’d be very interesting. Folks would be very interested to hear about that.
Chris: That’s one thing. Quickly, another area that I’m hoping we can get some traction on, but one of the other things about manufacturing non-metallics is the ability to embed sensors in the composite. Smart Pipe’s doing that.
They have three fiber optic cables they pull through. What if every repair or every composite pipe technology had sensors in there that would do a couple things for you? One, it would tell you the integrity of the material, so you have some onboard monitoring system.
The other thing is it maybe would give you information about the stress in the pipe or if the pipe’s moving. You could have some strain gauge sensors. I do think that’s going to be a really interesting area because unlike steel that we can inspect, you can run an ILI tool and you can look for cracks and corrosion, those things.
Composites are a lot more difficult to inspect. From my perspective, the way we get around that is we have onboard monitoring technologies. It’s like the human body. It’s like if I hurt my arm, I run into a wall or something, the sensors in my arm tell me that I’ve done something.
If it’s bad enough, then I go to the hospital and I get an x-ray if I’ve broken my arm. My onboard monitoring system helps me determine when I need to be inspected. We have the same luxury here with these composite technologies. If I had another lifetime, I might focus on that area. It’s got a lot of potential. You just got to get people…
Russel: The challenge with any of this, and we talked about this, we’ll probably do this later. I want to have a conversation with you about what it takes to commercialize technology and pipeline.
Chris: That’d be awesome.
Russel: It’s one thing to get a technology to work in the lab. It’s another thing to get it working in the field. It’s another thing to get it working in production. It’s still another thing to make it economically viable…
Chris: To convince somebody to buy it.
Russel: When you start talking about moving from steel pipe to composite pipe, and you talk about instrumenting the pipe so that it’s self monitoring, technology wise, I could see how you do all that. That’s very accomplishable with technology that’s out there.
It’s really more of an integration problem than it is a development problem, but cost wise, in terms of installation, operations, and maintenance, I have no idea what that is.
Chris: It’s like everything though. I think about how my mom bought my first VCR for me in 1990. That thing was like $400. You get on eBay today and probably get one, if you can even find them, for $15 or $20. It’s like everything. The first time a technology comes out, the early adopters pay more money. We can talk about that with commercialization. Then, as people begin to adopt it, the cost goes down.
Russel: It’s a bigger challenge in the pipeline space because there’s not as much scaling. It doesn’t happen as fast.
Chris: Exactly. You go back to when we first started the podcast, what does ADV do? That’s one of the things. The reason I started the company is I love working with technology companies, whether it’s a billion dollar technology company like Baker Hughes, or it’s a startup out of Tulsa, Oklahoma, is I love being in that space.
I even started a marketing company with Kara Turner, ADV Marketing. When we work with technology companies, and we’re trying to help them commercialize their technology, we’ve got a separate branch that really helps them with the social media and really the marketing presence. We can talk about that on another podcast.
Russel: Absolutely. Look, we need to wrap this conversation up. What do you want to leave pipeliners with, in terms of this conversation about composites? What should all pipeliners take away from this conversation?
Chris: Russel, there’s a couple of things. One is to really study what we’ve done, and we’ve started the Composite Technology Advancement Group. I’ll put a little plug. We have a meeting on May 25th. If you go to JoinCTAG, so the letter C T A G, joinctag.com, you can sign up.
We had about 130 people at our last meeting. Skip Elliott, who was formerly with PHMSA, spoke. We had a really good group, a lot of operators. One is to be part of the community, learn what we’re doing. The other part is to have an open mind. The reason composites are used…
I always think about John F. Kennedy’s, “we need men who dream of things that never were.” The reason we use composites today, there were a couple of early adopters who were willing to take criticism and willing to take some risks.
To be honest with you, the ability that we have to go to the lab and to test things, we really minimize the risk for applying new technologies, because we can prove if it works in the lab and it doesn’t. Those are two things, just learn what we’ve done and be cognizant of where things are going, and especially for your younger engineers.
I’ve spent my whole career, I never could have dreamed 30 years ago that I had the opportunity. Composites is a great place to be and we’re not even close to being done.
Russel: No. Not by a long shot. That’s one thing for sure. I do a fair amount of training, particularly in the SCADA world, and I spend a lot of time talking about the history of technology. It’s interesting about how a technology originally got created and used drives that technology 50, 100, 150 years down the road.
Anyways, look Chris, I could have this conversation with you for hours. This is awesome. Thanks so much for taking the time to be with us, and we definitely need to get you back.
Chris: Sounds good, Russel. Thanks for having me today.
Russel: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of The Pipeliners Podcast and our conversation with Chris. Just a reminder before you go, you should register to win our customized Pipeliners Podcast YETI tumbler. Simply visit PipelinePodcastNetwork.com/Win and enter yourself into the drawing.
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Transcription by CastingWords