Program ID: Innovation Anthology #386
Program Date: 03/22/2011
Program Category: Energy, Engineering, Oil Sands
MARIOS: Pipeline Slurry Improvement with Ben Fotty
PROGRAM #386 INTERVIEW WITH BEN FOTTY
CC: BEN, YOU’RE INVOLVED WITH THE MARIOS PROJECT AND I UNDERSTAND YOU ARE WORKING WITH SOMETHING CALLED SLURRY PIPELINE PROJECTS. WHAT IS SLURRY?
BF: Slurry is basically a mixture of salts and water. So if you’re looking to pipe or transport mine ore from a mine site to a processing facility, you put…mix water in with the ore and that’s one way to transport it, is through a pipeline
CC: SO IT’S ESSENTIALLY, LIKE A LIQUID OR A FLUID THAT’S MOVING DOWN THE PIPELINE?
BF: Basically if you had, say like in the Alberta oil sands, they’ll take, they’ll mine their oil sand from the site, mix it in with water, and basically you get a water and sand mixture that you pipe down or send down the pipeline to their processing facility there. It’s a different form of transportation.
CC: SO, WHAT ARE THE THINGS THAT YOU’RE LOOKING AT WITH YOUR PROJECT?
BF: I’m looking at specifically wear in slurry pipelines. When they’re piping these solids down pipelines, as they’re going down, you can think of it almost as liquid sandpaper. As you are pumping the sand along, it’s rubbing the interior surface of the piping and as you get more and more sand being transported each day, you wear out the piping very quickly.
So my area of research really is trying to quantify the wear in different locations of these pipelines.
And as you have different sites, you have different types of sand that goes through, so it’s also looking at what different types of material are better suited for different types of pipelines.
CC: WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT IT?
BF: Basically, you can try and look at different materials for different applications. That’s one of the challenges really. If you want to do any sort of smaller scale lab testing or a pilot scale testing to try and get results that are representative of a field environment, it’s difficult to do so unless you actually know what’s going on in the field.
That’s kind of the aim of our MARIOS project here--to quantify what’s going on in the field and try and correlate that back to smaller scale setups so we can predict what will happen because anytime you test in a field environment, it can be very expensive.
CC: CAN YOU GIVE ME A SPECIFIC EXAMPLE OF ONE OF THE AREAS THAT YOU ARE LOOKING AT?
BF: Primarily I’m looking at more the oil sand which is kind of a silica sand. That’s the main base of it. We’re looking at this for end user companies in the oil sands, so Syncrude, Suncor, CNRL. These are the types of companies that are running these pipelines and looking to understand more on the wear process in their pipes. And that’s where we’re trying to use our facilities here to help them predict what’s going on.
CC: WELL WOULD YOU END UP COMING UP WITH COATINGS OR THINGS LIKE THAT WHICH WOULD HELP SLOW DOWN THE WEAR?
BF: There are a number of materials that work better in different applications, whether it being a different type of material or a liner or a coating. I guess the difficulty is determining which material will work better in which application.
There are certain pipelines if you have one material work best in this location but you go further down the pipeline and that material doesn’t work as well. Even a pipeline you can’t look at it as one case. It’s looking at individual instances throughout the pipeline because your conditions do change.
CC: ARE YOU HAVING ANY SUCCESSES YET?
BF: We are. Definitely we’re wearing out a lot of pipe here in our facility. We’re starting to get some good results. We’re just on the verge of launching our field testing programs.
I guess the success we’ve had here is developing our own pilot scale facility here to help mimic test results or results that are in the field. And it’s like running any plant. You have your challenges and we’re finally getting to the point where I think we’re able to induce a measurable amount of wear in our piping and be able to bring in other materials and test them and measure the different wear rates and hopefully correlate that to some field data when we get it.
CC: IT MUST BE VERY DIFFICULT FOR THE INDIVIDUAL COMPANIES IF THE WEAR, EVEN IN DIFFERENT PARTS OF THE PIPELINE, IS DIFFERENT. HOW DO THEY KEEP TRACK OF ALL THAT?
BF: It’s just experience. Steel is the devil they know. It may not be the best material for all applications, but in a lot of instances there’s a lot of data about how long steel will last in certain locations.
CC: HOW QUICKLY CAN IT WEAR OUT?
BF: It varies by site. Sometimes it can last or be as little as a few months, changing out piping, really they rotate pipe up in the field to help prolong the life.
CC: IN DOLLAR TERMS, HOW MUCH OF A LOSS IS THIS TO THE COMPANIES?
BF: Maintenance, I think it’s been quoted that maintenance in the oil sands industry is in the billion dollar range, so it’s a significant dollar amount. Specifically in oil in the pipelines, I don’t have exact figures, but definitely in the millions.
CC: HAVE THERE BEEN ANY BREAKTHROUGHS?
BF: Really not any breakthroughs per se yet, but right now, we’ve been gearing up to get these testing programs in motion and right now we’re on the verge of launching one of the largest field scale testing programs that’s been done in the oil sands pipelines. So I guess come in a year’s time we’ll have hopefully some more breakthrough data.
CC: THANK YOU VERY MUCH BEN.
BF: Thank you.
Ben Fotty, PEng, is a Research Engineer, Advanced Materials and Sensors Engineering with Alberta Innovates Technology Futures. He manages the pipeline slurry project for MARIOS, the Maintenance And Reliability In Oil Sands consortium.