A History of the High Strength Composite Bound to Replace Steel

GRE pipe has come a long way since the first commercial use of fiberglass

What is the chronological development of composite pipe for the oil, gas and geothermal industry?

The rise of Fiberglass in Industry

The Historical Background

Glass Reinforced Epoxy (GRE) is more commonly known as fiberglass. This material is a form of composite that is reinforced with glass fibers. These fibers are woven into a thermosetting polymer while it is in its heated, liquid state.The use of glass fiber can be traced back to the beginning of glassmaking in the ancient Middle East, over 5000 years ago. However, because of the time, effort and expense of hand manufacturing it was impractical until the late 19th Century when precision industrial machinery made the mass production of glass fiber possible. Even then, it was not until the early 1930s that Russel G.

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Fiberglass Saves the Skys in WWII


Replacing plywood, fiberglass became the standard material for aircraft radomes during World War II.

1935 Owens-Corning Fiberglass Company is formed, commercial fiberglass introduced


Slayter, an engineer for Owens-Corning, developed glass wool (originally used for insulation) that led to the invention of fiberglass. By the 1950s, fiberglass was used for boat hulls, aircraft and even automotive coachwork. 

USE OF FIBERGLASS IN THE ENERGY INDUSTRY

Fiberglass pipe was first developed during the Second World War by applying the material over a mandrel. In the beginning this was done by hand. The resulting product was not resilient enough for the oil and gas industry and did not justify replacing the steel pipes then in use. However, after the war, industry began using centrifugal casting. This method has long been used for the manufacture of thin-walled, precision cylinders and pipes from a range of materials. Centrifugal casting made it possible to produce GRE pipe able to withstand some of the rigors in oil and gas applications at surface like transportation pipelines.    

Downhole applications were still off limits due to the lack of strength required in torque, burst and tensional loads necessary within a wellbore installation. Limited acceptance and use by the Energy Industry became the norm.

By the early 1960s, new technology made it possible to manufacture small-diameter GRE pipe capable of withstanding pressures of up to 450 pounds per square inch (psi). Today’s GRE pipe can handle up to 4,000 psi, and are able to withstand a wide range of environmental conditions, both above ground and in shallow applications.

A non-corrosive tubular has been the holy grail for deeper production wells as steel battles with accelerated disintegration in “sour” wells. GRE downhole installations have been limited due to wall and collar thickness to compensate for inherent weaknesses. Currently, more than 150 million feet of GRE are in use by the fuel industry.

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GRE & Meeting New Energy Industry Challenges

While “first-generation” GRE is lighter and not subject to corrosion as is the case for steel pipes, the world's increasing demand for energy requires energy industries to seek resources in more extreme environments under increasingly challenging conditions. According to Rob Selles, CEO of Akiet (a Netherlands-based manufacturer of composite pipes for drilling applications), the industry has challenged manufacturers to find a solution for the air inclusions in GRE pipe walls. A solution for this was found by Akiet making use of new-generation centrifugal casting. 

INHERENT PROBLEM

Traditional manufacturing methods can result in air pockets and uneven surfaces, which can leave the pipe vulnerable to damage and fatigue. GRE pipes also require wider joints resulting in smaller inner diameters in a given well bore. These drawbacks become an even more serious concern as energy industries – particularly geothermal – must drill even deeper under more extreme conditions for resources. 

RECENT BREAK-THROUGH

Engineers at Akiet have developed new manufacturing methods for GRE piping that eliminate many of these problems. All humidity and air is forced out of the matrix and the weak spots in the structure are eliminated,  creating a stronger, more resilient product capable of functioning at depths of 15,000 feet below the surface and withstand temperatures of over 212° degrees Fahrenheit (100° C) through the life of the well.

Today’s GRE pipe can handle up to 4,000 psi

So In Conclusion

GRE (fiberglass) pipe was a definite improvement over steel when it came to the transport of oil, gas and other volatile substances. However, this material has drawbacks and limits, particularly as energy industries are forced to seek resources under increasingly extreme conditions. Most of the drawbacks stem from manufacturing methods that are rapidly becoming obsolete.

The utilization of long Fiber Optic Glass, configured in appropriate orientations makes it possible to create a custom solution that addresses specific loads anticipated for a specific well. This geometric solution answers the strength question and simultaneously addresses the pipe thickness concerns of the past. 

Companies such as Akiet have come up with more advanced techniques, utilizing cutting edge methods and material resulting in a stronger, slimmer, more durable product.



RESOURCES

A Brief History of Glassmaking - web.archive.org

History of Fiberglass Boats - materialstoday.com

History of Fiberglass Pipe - fiberglasstankandpipe.com

New Generation Composites - linkedin.com

Improvements in GRE Composite Technology wellengineering.nl

Words by Fred Nilson For more info visit akiet.com

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