Technology Update: New Options, Improved Economics from Aerogel Insulation
- _ JPT staff (_)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- Journal of Petroleum Technology
- Publication Date
- June 2006
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 24 - 24
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The challenges facing oil and gas operators seeking to develop new fields in hostile environments such as deep and ultradeep water are well documented and continue to increase. One important requirement for operators developing subsea fields is the ability to transport unprocessed hydrocarbons, which are frequently at high pressure and high temperature, over longer distances along the ocean floor. Without sufficient insulation, the hydrocarbons will cool and create hydrates/wax buildup that can eventually clog flowlines at significant cost to operators. Cabot Corp. has developed Nanogel aerogel, a nanoporous insulation product, to address associated economic and efficiency issues.
Sometimes called “frozen smoke,” aerogels are light insulating solids. Nanogel is a hydrophobic aerogel produced as particles, each of which consists largely of air (≈95%) trapped in nanosized pores that severely inhibit heat transfer through the material.
A proprietary manufacturing method imparts mechanical benefits (NanoSprings) to the aerogel particles in addition to characteristics that make them useful for thermal insulation. The aerogel performs across a range of temperatures (from –200 to +250°C) making it applicable in systems ranging from liquefied natural gas (LNG) to high-pressure/high-temperature settings.
Four products have been developed for the oil and gas market—the Expansion Pack, Compression Pack, Particle Pack, and Thermal Wrap systems. The first two are pipe-in-pipe products and use half-shells made with Nanogel aerogel particles compressed and packed under vacuum. In field application, a series of half-shells is positioned in a pipe-in-pipe or other assembly and activated (vacuum is breached), resulting in form fitting of compressed particles into a desired shape, either filling the entire annular space (Expansion Pack) or, under higher compression, filling a predetermined portion of the annular space (Compression Pack).
There are two ways in which improved economic impact is created during development of subsea fields—by allowing the use of smaller jacket pipes and by enabling the construction of longer tieback lines.
In the case of smaller jacket pipes, substituting Nanogel for other insulation forms (such as polyurethane [PU] foam/rock wool) allows operators to reduce the size of outer pipes without compromising system performance (U-value), resulting in:
- Material savings on pipe steel.
- The ability to fit more pipe sections on a barge or reel, thereby reducing the number of barge trips.
- The ability to use smaller lay barges that have lower day rates. For example, to achieve a target U-value of 0.7 W/m2·K with an 8-in. flowline, an outer pipe of approximately 14 in. would be required if the insulation were PU foam. With the Expansion Pack system, the size of the outer pipe could be reduced to approximately 11 in. (Table 1).
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