Designer molecules for a new age

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Woodside is involved in ground-breaking research in Perth to develop environmentally friendly chemicals for use in the production of oil and gas.

The research, entitled Green Inhibitors for Lean Subsea tiebacks or Project GRILS, marks the first time Woodside has collaborated simultaneously with CSIRO and the University of Western Australia (UWA). “We’re accessing the expertise of the three groups and collaborating to develop a fit-for-purpose technical and commercial outcome,” explains principal production chemist Stuart McKay.

Project GRILS aims to design new anti- agglomerant (AA) molecules to prevent gas hydrates forming blockages in subsea pipelines and equipment. This would provide a feasible alternative to traditional thermodynamic hydrate prevention systems such as Monoethylene Glycol (MEG), currently used to inhibit the formation of gas hydrates but which require significant infrastructure and thus investment.

As an alternative to MEG, low dose hydrate inhibitors (LDHI), including AAs, are commonly used in the Gulf of Mexico and other locations. However, because of their historic environmental profile, they are not used in Australia. The AA chemicals currently available are potentially harmful to the environment, and expensive. Plus, they can adversely affect fluid separation efficiency.

So Project GRILS aims to design AA molecules which are “green”, commercially acceptable and which won’t impact production, allowing us to reduce the cost of our subsea facilities. Stuart points out that Woodside is not itself entering into molecular chemical synthesis. n“Woodside is contributing operational knowledge and end user customer requirements; CSIRO is supplying synthesis and knowledge of molecular manufacture; and UWA will be performing product qualification and testing,” he says.

Phase 1 of Project GRILS was launched in Q1 2017 and will run for a year. It will encompass the custom design of molecules, benchmarking against existing chemicals and environmental screening.

CSIRO senior research scientist Colin Wood and his team of research chemists are utilising the Rapid Automated Materials and Processing (RAMP) robotic system in Melbourne to design a “library” of target inhibitors. “The robotics mean we can develop significant numbers of prototype materials very quickly,” Colin says.

Zach Aman, associate professor of chemical and mechanical engineering at UWA, says: “This project will deploy the unique high-pressure sapphire autoclave for rapid screening of each chemical candidate under realistic pipeline conditions.” Phase 2 of GRILS, scheduled to last a further 12 to 24 months, plans to focus on potential chemicals via detailed testing and qualification, followed by pilot manufacture, product registration and commercialisation.

GRILS is sponsored by Technology, and technology development manager Hosi Sabavala says the designer chemicals will deliver a globally competitive technology that will drive down offshore development costs.

“The ability to utilise chemicals that can prevent hydrate formation and can be released safely and responsibly into the environment could have a step change in our future facilities’ capital and operating costs,” Hosi says. “This type of outcome has the potential to improve our position as a partner of choice within our expanding global footprint.”

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Trunkline Q3 2017​​​​