Research and development

In mid-2013, Saipem carried out a restructuring of its research and development activities, with the rationale that the capability to offer advanced technological solutions represents a crucial factor for sustaining and enhancing the Company’s competitive advantage in both the medium and long term.

As part of the change, a new corporate research and development department was created with the goal of maximising and fully leveraging Saipem’s research and development efforts through careful management. The research and development departments of the Business Units will remain focused on defining specific development proposals and managing projects and initiatives.

The restructuring initiative is expected to bear fruit in the near future. In the meantime, 2013 saw Saipem press on with its research and development programme, working on distinctive solutions in technologically-advanced sectors, such as the deep and ultra-deep waters and floating platform sectors and the development of new procedures and equipment for subsea excavation and pipelaying under extreme conditions. The year also saw the improvement of proprietary process technologies and the expansion of the Company’s portfolio of environmental services.

In the deep-water segment, the focus of R&D efforts was on the development of innovative subsea processing systems and work carried out in partnership with a number of leading oil companies.

The Joint Industry Project (JIP), which is based on the patented ‘Multipipe gas/liquid gravity separation system’, can count on the financial support of three oil majors. The project encompasses the definition of an entire subsea station for two cases of application as well as the evaluation of the design maturity of all of the station’s individual components, particularly from the point of view of construction. The JIP has been completed, and the system is now assessed as mature for project application. Additional analyses were conducted on the separator to test scenarios specifically requested by operators involving the maintenance of the system using vessels with very limited lifting capacity.

The year saw 3-phase hydraulic testing using a reduced scale model on the ‘Spoolsep’ liquid/liquid gravity separation system. The tests, which covered the full range of planned experimentation, were completed in November. A number of visits to the pilot plant by oil companies were organised with a view to securing their involvement in the next phase of system qualification.

In addition, a number of further studies also financed by oil companies were conducted with the aim of evaluating Saipem’s subsea separation systems for various specific applications.

Work also continued during the year together with an industrial partner on the design of subsea produced water treatment solutions. SPRINGSTM, the result of the joint efforts of Total, Saipem and Veolia is designed for the subsea removal of sulphates present in seawater. A small pilot unit has been built for a campaign of offshore tests due to take place during the second half of 2014.

Technology development activities in the floating production facilities segment remained focused on the creation of innovative solutions for floating liquefaction facilities (FLNG) with the objective of achieving more efficient and safer gas production under what are increasingly challenging conditions. Work was also carried out with the aim of providing direct support to FLNG projects currently being undertaken by Saipem. This included the qualification of a tandem LNG offloading system using floating flexible hoses.

Significant results were also achieved during the year in the SURF (Subsea, Umbilicals, Risers and Flowlines) segment, where a number of innovative solutions developed over recent years began to come to fruition, bringing with them the prospect of new opportunities to be exploited on the subsea field development market. In addition, studies were also launched with regard to subsea flowline heating solutions.

In terms of deep and ultra-deep water applications, further analyses conducted on a number of riser concepts confirmed their feasibility and relevance. Studies were also begun during the period on intervention downlines. The aim of these developments is to define new solutions for deployment in the commissioning and intervention phase of deep-water projects, with the aim of ensuring mechanical integrity and safer operability.

Work to develop a J-lay installation method adapted to plastic lined pipe continued. Tests carried out together with an industrial partner produced promising results and the next phase of development, which will complete the process of industrial qualification, is due to begin during the first half of 2014.

Following the completion of a process of screening for the active heating of flowlines, development worked kicked off in 2013 with the aim of developing and qualifying a solution that will enable the technology to be adapted for J-lay installation.

Newly designed components providing high pulling capacity were installed on a clamp on board a pipelay vessel and used on deep-water pipeline installation projects.

Studies aimed at obtaining improvements in the reel lay process and equipment continued. A new solution was evaluated from both a technical and economic point of view with positive results.

A significant effort went into the development of criteria to allow the heavier steel cables used in deep-water lifting operations and pipeline shore approaches to be safely replaced with rope made from synthetic fibres. Characterisation and qualification of rope made using large diameter fibres and validation work on innovative tensioning systems were concluded during the year.

Studies also continued on the application of new fibre-based systems providing a very high pulling capacity.

Development work and testing was also stepped up with a view to application on a real project of a system designed to prevent pipeline flooding during continuous laying operations.

Engineering, prototype construction and testing of the critical components of the system continued to take place, as well as a substantial review of the entire system.

Testing was carried out successfully on a new instrument for the remote measurement of pipeline internal ovalisation during laying operations. The industrialisation/production process is now underway.

New welding equipment which provides improved quality welds on coated carbon steel sealines was successfully applied on an offshore construction project.

Following the excellent results obtained during numeric simulations for a new highly productive offshore pipeline welding process, an experimental validation campaign was planned. Meanwhile, the new welded joint coating system, which was subjected to testing in previous years, was scheduled for application on a project encompassing J-lay, S-lay and multiple joint fabrication operations. The production process for the system equipment is currently underway.

The new RFID pipe tracking system was used for the first time on-board the pipelay vessel Castorone on a project situated in the Gulf of Mexico.

A new system was developed that is designed to reduce the risks associated with S-lay operations by allowing the rapid release of machinery from pipe strings on the launch ramp in the event of uncontrolled pipeline movements. Tests are currently drawing towards a close, meaning that production of the system will be ready to commence.

With regard to subsea operations, developments of the pipe repair system continued with the aim of extending its applicability to hydrosulfuric acid-rich environments as well as to acid environments in general.

Tests were also conducted during the year on a prototype of an innovative system for sealine repair that can also be used for construction operations. The system does not involve the use of a traditional telescopic joint and is also suitable for diverless application.

In the sealine trenching area, the experiments at sea of techniques for the transplantation of the aquatic plant Posidonia continued, confirming the positive results obtained previously. Meanwhile, with preliminary studies on a new subsea pipeline trenching and installation method with a very low environmental impact having concluded, the focus of the work shifted to developing the method and equipment for actual application.

Other studies conducted in parallel focused on developing optimal trench excavation techniques for use with hard soils, reducing the weight of equipment through the use of alternative materials and a new system for measuring the burial depth of pipelines after they have been laid in trenches.

Development work continued on tools used to simulate and guide offshore construction operations with the aim of enhancing their analytical power and improving real time monitoring during operations.

Process development activities focused on the achievement of continuous improvements in the environmental compatibility of proprietary fertiliser production technology ‘SnamprogettiTM Urea’, licensed to 127 units world-wide. At present the focus of the effort is on minimising the environmental impact of Urea plants (Urea Zero Emission) through the implementation of innovative technologies currently under development. A collaboration has been launched with the Fraunhofer Institut involving the development and supply of technological components that will be validated in a special facility at the University of Bologna and then included in ‘Urea Zero Emission’ process flows.

Following the technology screening phase conducted during 2012, a new innovation project was launched comprising a number of different research components, whose aim is to achieve increased energy efficiencies in process facilities. 2013 saw the completion of a study of hydroelectric energy production using waterfalls found in cooling water systems.

Other research and development activities with an environmental theme conducted during 2013 included the positive conclusion of a project concerning the use of geothermal waste waters to reactivate geothermal fields, which represents an interesting and environmentally sustainable option for reusing potential pollutants. The experimental procedure developed on the project makes it possible to verify in advance whether any potentially negative effects (e.g. corrosion) may result from re-injection. Finally, development work on a model for predicting underground water flows was completed during 2014. The model has been designed for application with environmental containment and remediation systems and water resource development and protection projects. The software is currently being subjected to integration with company standards.