Amid rising resource scarcity and the urgent need to lower greenhouse gas emissions, the concept of circular economy is growing in importance. Countries are initiating plans to make their economies more circular, a transition which involves rethinking how we produce, reuse, repair, and recycle. Additive manufacturing (AM) is playing an increasingly key role in efforts to convert material waste into new objects, as demonstrated by a pilot project executed by Aker Solutions, Aker BP, F3nice, and Additech.
Aker is a $13 billion Norwegian oil exploration and development company focused on petroleum resources on the Norwegian Continental Shelf. The company is about 30 percent owned by industrial investment company Aker ASA and 22 percent by BP, with the remaining shares divided among mostly among banks and other institutional investors like JP Morgan and State Street. Aker Solutions is the energy infrastructure division of the firm.
To explore the use of recycled materials for high performance applications, Aker Solutions tapped F3nice and Additech. While F3nice is dedicated to manufacturing metal AM powders made from recycled materials, Additech is a Norwegian 3D printing bureau owned by a venture capital firm called Clara Ventures, which is supported by Acker.
3D printed tubing hanger protectors for subsea wells. For the uninitiated, subsea wells are critical for oil & gas production, and tubing hanger protectors serve to shield the sensitive hydraulic and electrical controls of these wells during the tubing installation process.
Traditionally, these tubing hanger protectors are made of stainless steel, which has a carbon footprint of 237 kg of CO2 emissions, largely due to manufacturing and transportation. 3D printing the same components dramatically reduces this figure to a mere 34 kg of CO2 emissions per protector. To produce the parts, the team 3D printed the protectors using a powdered blend of recycled scrap material sourced from workshops in Tranby, Norway.
According to Ådne Østebrøt, senior services specialist at Aker Solutions, the 3D printing process requires only 13 kg of steel powder compared to a whopping 227 kg for conventional manufacturing and transportation. F3nice handled the conversion of waste metal into additive powder, while Additech oversaw the laser powder bed fusion process on a DMG Mori Lasertec system.
Remarkably, over 80 percent of the material used originated from waste metal from the Tranby site. This not only cut down on transport costs but also lessened the dependency on imported, carbon-intensive materials. Importantly, the entire process adhered to industry standards, including API Level 1 certified to DNV-SE-0568 Qualification of Additive Manufacturing Service Providers and Manufacturers plus DNV-ST-B203 Parts, Additive Manufacturing of Metal.
As AM is able to achieve economies of scale, it may become the most efficient way for producing parts using recycled feedstock. Not only does it reduce overall resource usage by applying material only where it is needed, but it may be able to do so closest to the point of use. On top of this, the ability to optimize designs for performance.
All of this is particularly crucial for the sector for which this project was performed. While raw materials may be in short supply, fossil fuels are the most important for global socioeconomic stability, despite the long-term instability it causes. For this reason, the oil and gas sector needs to become as efficient as possible as quickly as possible in order to squeeze out the last remaining drops of energy it can provide in the midst of a transition to other forms of energy. In turn, the same performance benefits AM brought to oil and gas can be applied to those other forms of energy.
In addition to these macro reasons for justifying the increased adoption of AM in the energy sector, 3D printing is valuable for sea-based oil rigs for its ability to produce parts near to the point of use. Otherwise, procuring and getting a part to the rig can have significant lead times. Though nearly every oil and gas company is now exploring the use of AM, shipbuilder Wilhelmsen is among the leaders in 3D printing for off-shore oil rigs and other marine other applications, even piloting the use of drones to deliver 3D printed parts to a Berge Bulk ship.
Such an example is no extravagance. 3D printing may ultimately be crucial in addressing the next deep sea oil spill or even preventing it before it happens. The fact that Acker is investing not only in alternative energy, but also AM services via Additech, demonstrates that the company is serious about maintaining its status during the transition to a post-fossil fuel world.
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