Energy Pipelines Cooperative Research Centre Chief Executive Officer, Professor Valerie Linton, provides an update on the establishment of the National Facility for Pipeline Coating Assessment.

Pipeline infrastructure is essential for Australia’s long term economic stability and growth. It is important however that the key challenges which face our ageing industry and infrastructure are addressed through effective management and supported by research.

The Energy Pipelines Cooperative Research Centre (Energy Pipelines CRC) was established in 2009 as part of the Federal Government’s ongoing Cooperative Research Centres Program, with the vision of enabling safer, more efficient and reliable pipelines to meet Australia’s growing energy needs. As an organisation, the Energy Pipelines CRC has been praised by the Commonwealth Government for its continued high level of industry collaboration on research projects.

A key aspect of Energy Pipelines CRC research has been improving pipeline coatings and their durability. The effective life of a pipeline is affected by corrosion and other environmentally assisted degradation factors. Understanding the factors that have an impact on pipeline coatings both during the construction phase and in service provides the opportunity to ensure that the pipeline is appropriately protected from the external environment during its lifetime.

The Energy Pipelines CRC has supported Deakin University in the establishment of the National Facility for Pipeline Coatings Assessment (NFPCA). Like many other important initiatives of the Energy Pipelines CRC, the NFPCA is becoming a crucial part of the Australian pipeline industry providing corrosion and coating specialists with the necessary tools to ensure their product performs as required in the Australian environment.

The NFPCA was officially launched at Deakin University’s Waurn Ponds campus in March 2014 by the Energy Pipelines CRC and Deakin University. This Facility was set up in response to the Australian energy pipeline industry’s needs for enhanced coating research, training, testing and materials assessment capabilities. The NFPCA is designed as a multi-purpose testing service and research facility. The facility includes test equipment to assess various coating performance parameters such as long term adhesion to steel and other pipeline coatings, resistance to cathodic disbondment, resistance to impact and soil stress, and resistance to environmental attack.

Filling a gap in the industry

The facility, led by Professor Mike Tan, a leading figure in the study of applied electrochemistry and corrosion technologies at Deakin University, has been noted by senior industry members as filling a gap in the Australian pipeline industry capability. It is currently supporting pipeline durability research projects such as research into coating cracking and disbondment, stress corrosion cracking, pipeline health monitoring and cathodic protection.

The facility is also providing commercial, independent coating testing services to the wider industry including coating manufacturers, suppliers, applicators and end users. The facility expects to see an increase in demand for testing services once their National Association of Testing Authority (NATA) accreditation is confirmed.

In the next stage of the facility’s expansion, research and testing capabilities will be added in coating flexibility assessment, cathodic disbondment testing and pipeline coating field or semi-field testing. This will allow the NFPCA to conduct standard pipeline coating testing and research, and support future projects involving field pipeline testing. The NFPCA will be able to support research projects that require the assessment of pipeline coating systems under diverse environmental, mechanical and stray and telluric current conditions.

The facility is expected to grow with the reputation of the Energy Pipelines CRC’s research into the selection, testing and modelling of coatings (in particular joint coatings) for a 100-year pipeline life.

Currently there are some knowledge gaps in coating selection, application and testing. For instance, AS 3862 has no requirement for the flexibility of coatings above 600µm in thickness, with the setting of a value to be decided between the supplier and purchaser. This example of a lack of guidance in the Australian Standard suggests that there is a significant requirement for further research in this area and highlights the need for continued collaboration between researchers and industry.

The NFPCA has been established to support the Australian pipeline industry through the provision of integrated research and testing capabilities in the area of coating selection and performance assessment. Ultimately this will contribute to the long term integrity of Australian pipeline infrastructure.

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