Crude Oil: A Precious and Controversial Raw Material
Topic of the month November 2010
Figure 1: The new pressure sensor operates at temperatures up to 250 degrees Celsius. Source: Fraunhofer IMS.
The images of the past months will be remembered for all times. Almost incessantly and with tremendous consequences for the environment unknown quantities of oil gushed out of the damaged conveying pipe of the exploded oil platform “Deepwater Horizon" into the Gulf of Mexico. If you analyse internet forums and interviews about this unpleasant issue objectively, it can be stated that big rantings are taking place and a surprising ignorance about the importance of this raw material prevails in the public mind. Further education in this area is necessary. Crude oil is by far not only a complex starting mixture for the production of fuels that are simply burnt to gain energy. In fact oil is the starting point of a product family, which touches almost every area of our lives. Numerous synthetic materials, useful coatings, important drugs as well as essential detergents and cleansing materials are just a few examples. Therefore we will not succeed to preserve our familiar variety of products without oil over the coming years. It is of utmost importance that especially the extraction and the transportation of this raw material will be carried out even safer and more reliable. Even though the medium-term importance of oil for the synthesis of fuels is decreasing due to the development of alternative energy concepts – such as wind and solar power – oil will remain an important and almost indispensable raw material for products of the chemical industry. Numerous research and development projects work on the realisation of those security requirements, which also deliver interesting new impulses for the exhibitors and visitors of the international trade fairs wire and Tube.
Seeing what is Happening - Simulated Cases of Damage
In a time of decreasing resources, secure pipeline systems are becoming more and more important. Such conveying systems are often several thousand kilometres long and therefore they must withstand different climatic, geological and mechanical requirements reliably. In the first place it´s essential to ensure that the raw materials are transported as resource-friendly as possible – wherefore oil demands powerful pumps and gas requires strong compressors. Secondly, the pipelines must be protected against damages of any kind and therefore they must be monitored constantly, so that no leakages can occur. Experts from Siemens now have the opportunity to simulate the working processes of a complete oil or gas pipeline in an unique pipeline demonstration centre in Fürth near Nürnberg. With these results, the engineers are able to develop innovative solutions for real and improved facilities. By this way complex piping systems, for example, can be monitored around the clock in terms of flow, temperature, pressure, vibration and denseness. Furthermore intelligent software solutions are available, which recognize different damages by exceeded or undercut threshold values of the operating parameters independently and automatically block the valves in critical sections.
Figure 2: The pipeline demo centre allows the simulation of various pipeline damages. Source: Siemens AG.
PU-Foams Protect Pipelines
The Nord Stream AG - a consortium of the companies OAO Gazprom, BASF SE/Wintershall Holding GmbH, E.ON Ruhrgas AG and NV Nederlandse Gasunie - wants to connect Russia and the European Union with a pipeline through the Baltic Sea. Since April this year the first ship is on its way through the Baltic Sea in order to lay the gas lines of the North Stream-Project, which will run between Wyborg in Russia and Greifswald in Germany. About 200.000 tubes must be welded for the realization of the project. An enormous number of welds must be protected by intelligent coatings to avoid damages caused by trawl nets or ship anchors for example. In order to fulfil this security-relevant requirement, the shock-absorbing polyurethane foam Elastopor H ® of the BASF Polyurethanes GmbH was chosen. The PU-system consists of two liquid components that are mixed together and worked into the cavities. Subsequently the actual polyurethane is formed from the mixture and is foamed up by the contained foaming agent. Due to its good fluidity, the material can disperse itself evenly and quickly in the cavities. In order to prevent that the polyurethane foam generates a lifting, an open cell structure is necessary which is able to absorb water. The rapid hardening of the polyurethane foam is of central importance for the installation process. Due to this fact, the material withstands the occurring strain during the lowering of the pipeline into the sea and it can unfold its protective effects over long periods of time. According to the company, the pipeline can reliably remain in use for at least 50 years.
Pressure Measurement under Extreme Conditions
Extreme conditions prevail during the extraction of raw materials. Drill heads under high loads bore themselves through massive stone formations - vibrations, high temperatures and changing pressure loads strain all materials that are involved in such processes.
This also includes the sensors that are used to measure the occurring pressure. Conventional pressure sensors only withstand temperatures of 80 to 125 degrees Celsius - but in great depths the temperature is often much higher. Scientists led by Dr. Hoc Khiem Trieu from the Fraunhofer Institute for Microelectronic Circuits and Systems IMS in Duisburg have now developed a novel technology to make such sensors more stable. According to the scientists these sensors will work reliably at temperatures up to 250 degrees Celsius. "The pressure sensors have two components that are located on a wafer," explains Dr. Hoc Khiem Trieu. The first component is the sensor itself, the second is the EEPROM. This module stores all measured values as well as the data for calibration. In order to make the sensor work under extremely high temperatures, the engineers have modified the wafer, which bases typically on monocrystalline silicon material. Now the scientists use silicon oxide. Thereby the insulating properties against leakage currents, which often lead to failure, are improved up to four orders of magnitude. The range of possible applications of this innovation is broad. The engineers want to establish the high temperature pressure sensors in various industrial branches like, for examples, the petrochemical industry and the automotive industry.
Dr.-Ing. Christoph Konetschny
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