Research and development

Innovation and technology during 2011 consisted mainly of work to address the new challenges of deep and ultra-deep water and floating liquefaction facilities, the development of new methods and equipment for sealine laying and trenching in critical conditions, the reduction of the environmental impact during installation and subsea emergency intervention on exploration and production facilities, the improvement of proprietary process technologies, the extension of the Company’s portfolio of environmental services, the development of the onshore and offshore renewable energy sector and high-level technological collaborations with research centres and other industry players.

In the deepwater area, important milestones were reached in the development of innovative subsea processing systems initiated during previous years.

The development of the patented technology ‘Multipipe gas/liquid gravity separation system’ made another step forward in the frame of a JIP (Joint Industry Project) supported financially by a number of major oil companies. This JIP aims to define the entire subsea station and assess the maturity of all its individual components, with a particular focus on construction.

The development of the ‘liquid⁄liquid gravity spool separation system’ is proceeding apace: after a pre-design phase, an initial performance stage was launched, while functional testing will take place in the second half of 2012.

The preliminary design of subsea produced water solutions was executed and presented to oil companies and at international conferences. The first qualification phase of these systems has been completed, with positive results for applications in deep andultra-deep waters.

In the SURF (Subsea, Umbilicals, Risers e Flowlines) area, significant progress was also made on the development of innovative solutions identified in previous years, which promise to open up new markets for the Company in terms of subsea field development.

For applications in medium water depths (300 to 500 m), the design of riser solutions using steel and titanium is moving ahead.
A feasibility study has been successfully completed and development is now focused on installation procedures.

Innovative solutions of floating and thermal insulation materials for SURF applications are in the development phase and will soon enter the qualification phase. Progress was also made on the design of active heating solutions for flowlines.

In the field of innovative floaters and associated systems, work carried out during the year concentrated on the design of an offshore tandem LNGi offloading system using floating cryogenic hoses. Carried out in association with industrial partners, this work reached a new milestone at the end of 2011 with the launch of the qualification phase of the entire system.

Furthermore, the development of the ‘dry-tree production unit’ (wellhead barge - WHB®) proceeded positively with its qualification by one of the major oil companies. This concept, which is particularly suited to the development of fields in deep waters in moderate marine weather conditions, is being considered for offshore application in West Africa.

In the sealine trenching area, work focused on the mitigation of environmental impact and the restoration of marine protected areas. The year also saw studies and tests on restoration of the Posidonia beds using propagation and transplantation techniques.

A number of functionalities of the trenching and backfilling equipment used on the Kashagan project were subjected to further development and testing with the aim of reducing the turbidity generated during installation. Furthermore, studies commenced to develop a new trenching and pipeline installation method characterized by low environmental impact.

In sealine laying operations, the qualification tests of a new S-lay field joint coating system were concluded. Application of this technology was also successfully validated for J-lay joints.
Preliminary application studies for a new welding process on board pipelay vessels were also commenced.

Moreover, studies were completed on a new, high-capacity pipeline abandonment and recovery system as well as on an improved pipe offloading system, while endeavours to increase pipe towing capacity and monitoring pipeline integrity during launch proceeded apace.

Studies to prevent the flooding of trunk lines during the laying phase were started and the first validation tests were completed on critical components.

Studies were also conducted during the year on developing systems capable of an emergency response in the event of oil spills from exploration and production facilities, as were studies of operations in the Arctic regions.

Process development activities focused on the achievement of continuous improvements in the environmental compatibility of proprietary fertilizer production technology ‘SnamprogettiTM Urea’, licensed to date to 121 units world-wide.

Attention is currently focused on minimizing the environmental impact of Urea plants (Urea Zero Emission) through the implementation of innovative technologies currently under development. The technology for the recovery of ammonia from flue gas is now ready for application at pilot plant scale.

Validation of the updated mathematical model for the high pressure section of urea plants is currently under way. The model will subsequently be used to evaluate new process improvements.

Following on from Saipem’s commitment as the main EPC contractor in the GL-3Z project for the liquefaction of natural gas (LNG) for Sonatrach in Arzew (Algeria), a cooperation agreement was signed with Chiyoda for the construction of onshore LNG plants. The agreement will enable the two companies to integrate their respective Oil & Gas contracting know-how, and in particular their knowledge of the gas monetisation chain, to successfully tackle the rapidly expanding LNG and Upstreami sectors, as well as other strategic markets.

The year also saw Saipem complete construction work on the first commercial unit to use ENISOLVEX technology – a new Eni proprietary technology for the remediation of soils and sediments contaminated by organic compounds – at the Eni R&M refinery in Gela, Italy. Pre-commissioningi is planned for 2012. Furthermore, a specific procedure has been developed for choosing between different remediation options based on quantitative criteria relating to environmental impact.

In the CO2 Capture and Storage sector, Saipem completed the development of the Front End Engineering Design (FEED) for a pilot pipeline unit for dense phase transportation of CO2 to be installed in the Eni/Enel pilot chain. Meanwhile, a feasibility study for the transportation of CO2 from the Eni R&M refinery in Gela to local oil fields to be used for Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) has been completed.

The Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a methodology for assessing the environmental impact associated with a product, a system or a process along its entire life cycle. It is an important support tool in decision making, process optimization, monitoring and reporting.
A Life Cycle Information Database (LCID) has been set up by Saipem to provide an inventory of energy and oil processes and has been successfully tested on a number of projects. The system was implemented on Sigma pro, the leading LCA software.

In the renewable energy sector, and in particular offshore technologies, developments have been moving ahead on tidal turbines, with a large-scale prototype planned for 2012, as well as on a wave-powered generator for an oil company. Furthermore, Saipem’s technological Innovation and Development Team is on hand to provide technical support to commercial initiatives on offshore wind power projects for the main players in the energy industry.

The development of solutions for large scale energy storage is proceeding apace. Preparation of the test and qualification phase of storage materials is underway with the aim of carrying out functional tests in the middle of 2012.