In the early 2000s, the limitations on existing subsea wet insulation systems became apparent. It all began when oil and gas operators started drilling in deeper waters and required longer tie-backs and lower heat transfer coefficient (U value). At that time, the industry was used to polyurethane and polypropylene based insulation systems. Certain niche project conditions such as installing pipes during subzero temperatures, reducing insulation thickness to reduce outer fiber strain during reeling, and using foamed polymers for deeper water, paved the way for new polymer materials.
Shawcor’s polymer group seized the opportunity and developed ULTRATM. The polystyrene-based multi-layer coating system provides lower thermal conductivity and higher hydrostatic compressive strength compared to the conventional blown polypropylene foam systems, which are generally limited to 500 m water depth. ULTRATM was extensively tested in laboratories and during plant trials. The results were consistent; there was no substitute for track record with an actual project.
Its perceived value proposition was put to the test for the first time in 2010 with two projects – one in North America (1000 m water depth) and the other in the North Sea (430 m water depth). ULTRATM also played a small but significant part in the Goliat project allowing pipe installation by reeling process in the Arctic’s harsh winter conditions.
This subsea wet insulation system has also been submitted to rigorous testing to meet ISO 12736:2014 standards. These standards define the minimum requirements for qualification, application, testing, handling, storage and transportation of new and existing wet thermal insulation systems for pipelines, flowlines, equipment and subsea structures. It has also endured tests, including one year of exposure to seawater at maximum operating temperature and pressure.
In a risk-averse, industry, accepting this type of product requires a long-term track record or TRL7 status. Consequently, there was a gap of more than four years between the initial projects in 2010 and the second phase of projects.
Over time, ULTRATM has proven its value. Its unique features, combined with two compatible field joint systems, have provided clients technical solutions and the cost advantages required to enable new offshore field developments located in the North Sea, APAC, and Brazil, among other areas. With several projects successfully executed in the last couple of years and inquiries for upcoming ones, ULTRATM has transitioned from a viable alternative to the first choice for most subsea projects.