Confidence in composites - composites in the oil and gas industry

Materials World magazine
1 Aug 2011
oil refinery

Dr Rod Martin and Dr Morris Roseman from the Materials Engineering Research Laboratory Ltd (MERL),
outline the essential functions being performed by composites in the oil and gas industry.

In 2007, a review entitled A Technology Gap
Review of Composites in the UK Oil and Gas
was published. Some of the information
from this review was taken up by the Department
of Business Innovation and Skills for the UK
Composites Strategy, which aimed to close the
technology and skills gaps within the composites
industry. The review listed a number of existing uses
of composites and, in consultation with the industry,
attempted to identify some of the barriers to growth
of composites in the oil and gas industry. In the short
time since the review was published, there has been
a significant growth in awareness that composite
materials could help enable the industry meet some
of the security of energy supply challenges ahead.

Here we outline some of the current uses, the work
being done on the latest high performance
applications in a standardisation effort to strengthen

Thermoplastic pipelines

Flowlines and risers comprise a significant part of oil
field operations, carrying the hydrocarbons from the wellhead to the processing point on the surface.
Recent developments have investigated the use of
carbon and glass thermoplastic composite materials
to develop these flowlines. The innovation in this work
includes the ability to manufacture these pipes
in continuous, spoolable lengths using a tape
placement or a filament winding manufacturing
technique using multiple heads.

Airborne International B.V. in the Netherlands has a
commercial product that uses carbon reinforced
thermoplastics in tubulars for the oil and gas industry.
In 2010, Airborne attracted inward investment
to accelerate growth and build the world’s first
dedicated manufacturing facility for the continuous
production of high-end fully bonded thermoplastic
composite tubulars, scaling their existing pilot line to
an industrial level.

Magma Global Ltd, based in Portsmouth, UK, has
developed a proprietary manufacturing process that
produces high performance carbon polymer pipes
using polyether ether ketone (PEEK), that offers
improved reliability, increased performance, lighter
weight and longer life than conventional un-bonded flexible pipes or steel solutions. Magma will complete
a 28cm water injection riser and 15cm HPHT jumper
in 2011, with a comprehensive product-specific test
programme. Their m-pipe was launched at the
Offshore Technology Conference in Houston, USA, in
May 2011. Magma’s Technical Director Damon
Roberts says, ‘spoolable thermoplastic composites,
manufactured to a high quality will revolutionise the
deepwater oil and gas production in the very
near future’.

Other thermoplastics have been evaluated for long
term chemical resistance by the Materials
Engineering Research Laboratory (MERL), based in
Hitchin, UK, for use in pipe applications. A
consortium project led by EPL, Loughborough, UK,
and involving Chevron, Hess, Acergy, Ticona, MERL
and PERA, and part-funded by the UK Technology
Strategy Board, investigated three different designs of
thermoplastic composite flowline. Both glass fibre
reinforced polyoxymethylene (POM) and polypropylene
(PP) showed good performance in saltwater
environments, with verylittle degradation in mechanical
properties beyond that associated with initial fluid
uptake. Carbon fibre reinforced PEEK performed well
in the sour oil environment, and carbon fibre
reinforced polyphenylene sulfide (PPS) performed
well in both the hydrocarbon gas condensate and in
the sour oil environment at elevated temperatures,
following an exposure time of one week:


Materials that performed well in screening and
accelerated ageing were wound into pipe sections
over a liner of the same, but non-reinforced, material
for subsequent burst testing (see images, right).

Intelligent systems

Another innovative application for composites is
related to the tooling used down hole to identify
well performance, which is undertaken using expensive
tools and instrumentation attached to cables
and inserted into wells. A new development for
the wirelines is to fabricate them from composite material exploiting their highly directional properties.
The advantages of these composite cables over
braided steel lines include lower friction, higher
stiffness and load capacity, lower deployment
costs (being lighter in weight) and increased
durability in the hostile fluids common in the oil and
gas industry. They also have potential to go further
into extended-reach deviated well bores.

Several companies are developing such composite
cables. Well technology company Ziebel AS,
Stavanger, Norway, has developed a 6,000m
semi-stiff, spoolable, carbon rod (see images below). This can be injected into highly deviated and
horizontal oil, gas and water injection wells to
evaluate well and reservoir performance. The rod
contains several fibre optic lines used for data
transmission and sensing applications in the
wellbore, and has an operating range up to
temperatures of 150°C and well pressures of

During deployment and retrieval of the composite
rod, Ziebel’s proprietary high accuracy fibre optic point
pressure and temperature sensors transmit
well data to the surface in real time. An integrated
vibration sensor is installed at the lower end of
the rod and is used to verify movement while
the composite rod is being injected into the wellbore at
surface. The composite rods were tested at
MERL. They were subjected to a range of high pressure,
high temperature test conditions in
hydrocarbons and other fluids associated with oil and
gas operations, then subjected to simulated reeling and
installation stresses. The composite rods proved to be
durable, having undertaken two years of development
and qualification, followed by a further two years of
commercial onshore operations in the USA and Oman,
which has resulted in Z-System being deployed in 24
wells without incident.

Unbonded flexibility

Another conduit used to convey high pressure and
high temperature produced fluid from the wellhead on the seabed to a processing facility on the
surface is the unbonded flexible pipe. This pipe type
is manufactured in continuous lengths and wound
onto reels. The pipe comprises a number of layers
that are discrete, and some movement between them
is allowed. The barrier layers are thermoplastic and
the reinforcement layers usually carbon steel. A
stainless steel inner carcass can be used and the different
layers move independently from one another.
The steel layers ensure the pipe’s mechanical integrity,
the wear-resistant layers minimise abrasion damage
and the outer and inner fluid barrier layers reduce
the risk of corrosion of the carbon steel layers from
permeation of water, H2S or CO2.

DeepFlex Inc, based in Houston, USA, has
replaced the steel armour layers with composite
material layers and has led in this area with flexible
fibre reinforced pipe (FFRP):

company has developed an innovative continuous
winding technique for manufacturing the pipes using
reinforcement stacks that comprise pultruded fibre
reinforced tapes that are formed into stacks for the
hoop and tensile reinforcement.

DeepFlex’s FFRP riser systems have been
successfully operated in service for more than two
years and have deployed products in several of the
major offshore regions, and in water depths as high
as 1,500m for pipeline commissioning applications.
Mark Kalman, Vice President of Engineering at
DeepFlex, says, ‘the use of composite materials
instead of steel in unbonded flexible pipe will serve
to reduce CAPEX and OPEX costs, but also open
up opportunities for deep water applications. Other major suppliers of flexible pipe are also pursuing a
composite solution for deep water use.’

Raising standards

As part of ISO Working Group TC67/WG7 an initiative
has started to write an ISO standard for composites
in contact with oilfield media as part of the suite of
standards on non-metallic materials being developed
by ISO as ISO 23936. A significant amount of
pre-normative research is required before such a
standard can be written.

This work will be conducted by an international
industry-funded joint industry project (JIP) developed
by MERL. The results of the JIP will be used to detail
the test methods to be included in the standard to
increase the reliablility of the use of composite
materials used in this industry. As well as the use of
standards to test composite materials, new methods
to include the effects or rapid gas depressurisation,
long term ageing, permeation and other issues
particular to the oil and gas industry will be
developed. This work will get underway in 2011, and
it is estimated that it will require three to four years for
the ISO to reach the FDIS stage.

Further information

Dr Rod Martin, FIMMM, CEng, CSci, Chair of the British Composites Society,
Chief Executive Officer, MERL Ltd, Wilbury Way, Hitchin, Hertfordshire,
SG4 0TW, UK. Tel: +44 (0) 1462 427850. Email:

The original 2007 review can be downloaded from