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Innovative Coating Solutions For Oil Sands Equipment

Innovative coating solutions that contain chromium carbide offer corrosion and erosion protection for oil sands equipment.

Oil sands equipment wear is a concern for the oil industry. Loss of production is costly. Production must be stopped if a part breaks or wears down. Leakage in the plant or the natural environment can lead to high costs. Workers, residents, and other animals and plants can be exposed to the dangers of a leakage. It is also expensive to replace or repair a part with the right equipment, materials, and labor. It is not surprising that the oil sands industry has high costs.

"You are pumping and moving oil-laden Sand at high temperatures using metal machinery. The Sand is extremely abrasive. It releases chemicals that make the Sand more corrosive when it heats up," Wynn Hollingshead (CEO of Pacific Particulate Materials, a Vancouver-based custom powder producer) said.

Oil Sands Equipment: The Dangers

The equipment deterioration occurs in two steps. Sand moves across the metal and attacks its surface. Corrosive chemicals strip the metal below the surface as the surface wears. These two processes accelerate the process of part degradation. In addition, when metal parts heat up, the hardness of the parts goes down. The wear rate of machinery will increase even more. These factors all add up to premature component failures.

Oil Sands Equipment Specialized Coatings

A recent innovation to combat wear is a customized chromium-carbide overlay. The coating can be applied inside metal tubes and pipes up to 0.25 inches (6.35mm) thick. The coating is applied by plasma-transferred arc welding (PTAW). When applied correctly, the chromium carbide coating protects against heat, friction, heat, and tar sand erosion. (For more information on erosion, see Erosion Corrosion - Coatings and other Preventive Measures.

Figure 1. Figure 1. 

Because it creates an extremely heat-resistant coating, the material is stronger than the metal used in the tubes and pipes. The chromium carbide coating has a high melting temperature and is resistant both to abrasion and corrosion.

Every chromium carbide coating begins as a custom powder mix. One of the challenges with customization is that every oil sands producer owns its PTAW equipment. Every producer has its setup and sometimes even unique hardware for pipes and tubes.

The use of the chromium-carbide coating is expected to have a significant positive impact in plants that engage in a process known as upgrading, in which asphalt (bitumen) is transformed into light sweet synthetic crude oil (SCO).

Oil Producers - Chromium-Carbide Powder

Hollingshead started that PPM can create a variety of chromium carbide powders.

We work with each company to develop a powder that is compatible with its PTAW equipment. We sell the powders to parts manufacturers and hardfacing applicators that coat new parts with them. Hollingshead said that the powder is also sold to oil producers who may coat new parts or parts already in their plants with it."

Hollingshead said differentiating various powder formulations also allows PPM to manufacture compositions specific to customer needs.

"The powder's cost is very competitive. Hollingshead added that there is the possibility of tweaks to personalize a blend.

Hollingshead started that custom powders' cost, composition, effectiveness, and longevity could be kept secret by non-disclosure agreements with customers.

Companies that use the parts can only see how powders perform over time. Hollingshead said that they are the ones who can observe how powdered parts perform and how long they last.

PPM is always learning more about optimizing the powder for purposes like coating metal tubes to transport fluids. The COVID-19 pandemic induced a long period of research and development at the company.

"Right now, the demand is down significantly, about 50 percent. In response to the drop in global oil demand, oil producers are producing less oil. This time is being used to improve our products. Hollingshead said that more knowledge would lead to better products.

The Origin of the Powder Coating for Hard Facing

In 2016, oil sands producers from Alberta, Canada, started looking for a solution to corrosion in metal tubing. Gary Fisher, principal engineer of materials at InnoTech Alberta, was contacted by the producers. Innovates is the largest provincial research and innovation agency. This organization assists businesses throughout the province.

Fisher said his team knew from experience which corrosion-resistant alloys (CRAs) might work best.

"We set up a project team consisting of seven people. We worked on increasing resistance to wear for about two years," said Fisher. The team developed a viable powder in 2018 and shared it with Pacific Particulate Materials.

"We reached out to PPM for them to take the technology we had developed and improve it. Fisher stated that PPM now has the chance to commercialize the powders.

Figure 2. Figure 2. (Source: InnoTech Alberta)

PPM produces powder blends for oil producers and parts manufacturers in more than 60 countries. PPM produces a range of metal powder blends, components, and ceramic, cermet.

Hollingshead stated that his team and Fisher's InnoTech Alberta team were constantly communicating between 2018-2020.

"During this time, we explored ways to optimize powder and account for technical issues such as differences in application methods. Hollingshead stated that the powder was ready for production in August 2020.

Hollingshead started that PPM used this time to create potential customer lists and prioritize customers.

Learn More About Abrasion Protection and Corrosion Prevention

Fisher said the level of protection afforded by the overlay is dependent on the service environment, which is the physical environment in which the overlay is used.

We know that the thickness of the coating can affect the lifespan of an overlay. Fisher stated that having a higher wear resistance could result in cost savings compared to standard CRAs.

Dr. Frank Cheng, Canada Research chair in pipeline engineering at The Department of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, University of Calgary, is interested in learning more about powders PPM creates.

Cheng is the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Pipeline Science and Engineering. Cheng is also the author of two books on solutions for oil producers: "Stress Corrosion cracking of Pipelines" by Wiley (2013) and "Pipeline Coatings" (NACE International 2017, 2017).

Cheng stated that the chromium-carbide overlay technology is a great solution for resisting erosion and wear in the oil sands sector. Cheng is most concerned about the coating's durability.

Ceramic coatings are often brittle. When a microcrack initiates for any reason, it can propagate rapidly to fail the material," said Cheng.

Cheng would like to examine data on fracture toughness testing under relevant operating conditions. Cheng would like to learn how powder companies apply it to specific pipes such as the welded oil sands and slurry hydro transport pipes.

Cheng stated that it is difficult for industry professionals to comment on the impact of the coating without knowing the exact location and the protection provided by the facility.

"I would love to see detailed testing results regarding the properties and performance. These include the microstructure, composition, wear resistance, toughness, strength, hardness, and toughness and mechanical properties such as strength, hardness, and toughness. The conditions under which tests are conducted would reflect the actual reality. For example, tests conducted in a multi-phased flow loop, a three-phased flow loop that circulates oil, water, and Sand, and with an impingement jet are preferred," said Cheng.

A positive return on investment

Hollingshead stated that data is important to understand these results. It is important to consider the customer's return on investment.

Hollingshead stated that an oil producer wouldn't spend the money to coat a surface if it is too expensive.

Hollingshead stated that the main driver of powder improvement is the customer's desire to lower processing and production costs. Competition between oil producers and parts suppliers is another factor that drives improvement.

Understanding the motivations of suppliers and producers is what allows us to do a better job. Over 25 years of business, we have learned that not all customers are the same. We hope that by listening to our customers and working together to optimize the coating, we can reduce operational costs, improve plant operation, and reduce part waste." Hollingshead said.

Future Innovations in Oil & Gas Industry

Bryan Remillard is the oil sands policy manager at the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), a trade association representing the upstream Canadian oil and natural gas industry. Remillard stated that Canada's energy sector is a nation with a long history of technological advancements and innovation.

Remillard stated that oil and natural gas companies had spent billions of dollars in research and development over many years.

"They are sharing technology and collaborating with universities, governments, innovators, and governments to further their innovations, even within different industries. Engineers, operators, and researchers continue to find progress opportunities and gaping holes in their work. For example, coating solutions that improve efficiency and lower costs in the production of natural resources. The energy sector is a leader in clean-tech innovation and will strive for improved environmental and operational outcomes. This will also ensure our country's investment attraction and competitiveness.

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