Materials science will become increasingly important to the oil and gas industry. The BP International Centre for Advanced Materials focuses on understanding the potential of materials that are stronger, lighter, ‘intelligent’ and even self-healing
How do scientists develop new materials such as stronger steels? Take a look behind the scenes at the BP International Centre for Advanced Materials
Ever since humans first learned to use wood and stones to create tools, we have manipulated the materials around us, and invented new materials to make lighter, stronger, more efficient, and higher performing products. It is difficult to imagine any aspect of modern day life which has not been improved through advances in materials science and technology.
The role of advanced materials is ever evolving in the energy industry. As we work at unprecedented depths, pressures and temperatures and as refineries, manufacturing plants and pipeline operators seek ever better ways to combat corrosion and fouling, we deploy new materials to improve the efficiency of our operations and products. This is why BP has established a $100 million research centre, the BP International Centre for Advanced Materials (BP-ICAM). The centre aims to advance the fundamental understanding and use of materials across a variety of energy and industrial applications. The University of Manchester’s Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences, which has a track record of delivering breakthrough research and engineering applications, is the hub for a network of world-class academic institutions, including the University of Cambridge, Imperial College London, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The BP International Centre for Advanced Materials (BP-ICAM) aims to advance the fundamental understanding and use of materials across a variety of energy and industrial applications.
Materials resistant to corrosion
Globally, it is estimated that the annual costs related to corrosion across all sectors is above $2 trillion. In the oil and gas sector while the industry makes every effort to monitor and control corrosion, the combination of complex factors such as operating environment, mechanical stress and multiphase flow make it hard to fight against.
Corrosion impacts the condition of critical pieces of equipment, the effectiveness of barrier coatings and the performance limits of materials, this is further impacted by the hydrocarbons and other substances that the equipment has to handle – whether that’s in a refinery, pipeline or a subsea installation. BP-ICAM scientists are researching the fundamental processes which initiate corrosion. Understanding the interplay between materials, feedstocks and the associated corrosion processes will enable better choice of materials, early detection of issues, and development of more effective corrosion management practices.
BP-ICAM scientists can zoom in at the atomic level to understand corrosion
BP-ICAM researchers are developing new materials which are resistant to corrosion and can reliably extend the lifetime of oil and gas infrastructure. When hydrogen builds up in steel, even at one part per million, it has a dramatic and potentially dangerous weakening effect on the mechanical properties of the metal. By chemically mapping the surface of carbon steel, scientists can identify the regions where hydrogen becomes trapped in the microstructure. Advanced imaging using state of the art technology at the University of Manchester lets scientists at the BP-ICAM understand mechanisms by which hydrogen embrittlement occurs and develop materials that potentially offer greater resistance to it.
The biological self-healing processes of blood clotting or repairing fractured bones inspired BP-ICAM scientists to look at new ways of developing synthetic materials with similar properties. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign researchers are creating self-healing coatings for metals and pipelines that can sense damage, stop it getting worse and even self-repair without any external intervention. The coatings have tiny micro-capsules embedded within them that release a healing fluid to repair the material as it starts corroding. The future applications of self-healing materials have enormous potential, not only for the energy industry but civil engineering and construction, for example.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign researchers are creating self-healing coatings for metals and pipelines that can sense damage, stop it getting worse and even self-repair
Materials enabling fuel efficiency
Today’s cars are smaller and more powerful, cleaner, cheaper and faster than they were thirty years ago. However, these advances in technology have led to the pressures within engines nearly doubling at various metal-to-metal contact points. Often a thin layer of lubricant is the only barrier between the high-force contacts of these surfaces. Without such protection, engines will be damaged, impacting on performance and efficiency.
New lubricant molecules can reduce friction and improve engine performance
Through international collaboration, facilitated by the unique nature of the BP-ICAM partnership, scientists are researching new materials that may lead to the development of stronger, lower friction lubricants able to work effectively in modern and future engines and machinery.