Oil spillages are among the worst environmental disasters on our planet – with toxic chemicals killing wildlife, destroying habitats, and leeching into our food chain – not to mention the massive economic impact of long-term clean-up operations.
But researchers led by Professor Hongbiao Dong at the University of Leicester, Research Chair of Royal Academy of Engineering sponsored by TWI, are improving outcomes through new materials technologies which reduce the environmental impact of fossil fuels, and could help in the global shift towards greener energy sources.
A dirty problem
In the USA alone, nearly 9 million gallons of crude oil have spilled from pipelines since 2010.
The North Sea, the UK’s own oil production hub, faces similar issues.
And the most common point of failure in any pipeline or deep sea platform comes in the join between sections, where welds can corrode over time given the high pressures and engineering challenges that come with working deep under the sea.
“The most common failure mode for welds in any oil transportation system is cracking,” explains Professor Dong.
Failure of a single weld can shut down entire sections of infrastructure, resulting in both economic and environmental impact.
Researchers took their understanding of the welding process to a microscopic level, analysing the crystal structures created when two metals are fused together. They made a number of novel technological advances in modelling thermal, computational fluid dynamics, and solid mechanics of arc welding, before integrating these into ‘microstructural models’ to create a comprehensive modelling of the entire welding process.
This analysis, and the use of new materials, has enabled Professor Dong and collaborators on the MINTWELD project to create techniques which are more resilient and less prone to failure.
The work was undertaken with Liberty Steel, British Steel (formally Tata Steel) and The Welding Institute (TWI) as well as academic partners from Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Netherlands, Poland and Switzerland.