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№ 5 (May 2010)

Russian Scientists to Showcase the Newest Corrosion-proof Technologies at EUROCORR

September could be the hottest month of the year for experts in the anti-corrosion industry: EUROCORR – the European Corrosion Congress – is scheduled to take place in mid-September. The event will be held in Russia for the first time thanks to the efforts of the scientists from Gubkin Russian State Oil and Gas University (RGUNG) where the Congress will be hosted.

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OGE spoke with Alexander Muradov, doctor of Engineering, professor and a vice-principal at RGUNG, about the importance of the congress for Russia’s oil and gas industry and about the apparent dependency between efficient anti-corrosion technology and economic indicators in the industry.

OGE: The upcoming EUROCORR Congress is high on the list of key international events in the corrosion protection industry. Could you elaborate on the global status of the event and on the practical value it could bring to meeting the challenges in the industry?
Muradov: EUROCORR is an annual congress run by the European Federation of Corrosion (EFC). The Federation, established in 1955, now brings together over 25,000 experts and white-collar workers engaged in fighting corrosion in Europe and worldwide. The U.S.-based National Association of Corrosion Engineers (NACE) and the World Corrosion Organization (WCO) also help host the event. EUROCORR is one of the largest events in the industry. It is called “European” but in essence, for the corrosion protection industry, this congress is an event of the highest global level. So far, 53 countries have confirmed their places (usually the congress is attended by about 80 states, including American and Asian countries).
The 2007 general assembly of the European Federation of Corrosion decided that the 2010 EUROCORR Congress will take place in Moscow.
The congress will be accompanied by an industry exhibition spread over a 1,200-square-meter site, which is enough space for up to 50 companies. We’ve already had a number of visits from EFC Secretariat offices in London, Paris and Frankfurt. The last visit was on April 12, when the delegation inspected the site and its compliance with safety requirements, which are traditionally strict for events of such a level.

OGE: This is the first time Russia has been entrusted with organizing such a top-level congress. What does it mean for the country and for the industry?
Muradov: Our meeting with the international anti-corrosion community here, in Russia, is very important. The majority of our state-financed bodies have rather little cash, and many Russian scientists with top-level research projects simply can’t afford business trips abroad. The congress runs for five days. We’ve already enlisted support from the Russian Federal Assembly and the Ministry of Science and Education.
Corrosion and associated problems are relevant to virtually every sector of the economy; degradation is equally destructive and dangerous for any facility, be it upstream equipment, or historic monuments, or a spacecraft. That is why the motto of EUROCORR 2010 is – “From the Earth’s Depths to the Heights of Space.”
Corrosion doesn’t simply mean the decay of metal, it also encompasses man-made and environmental disasters. The oil and gas industry is particularly vulnerable to corrosion – the industry’s facilities contain a lot of metal and any mistake in protecting that metal against corrosion carries sky high costs – not merely in terms of material losses, but also in terms of human casualties and environmental disasters. We hope that the Congress will draw the attention of the state, business executives and science to this crucial issue.

OGE: What anti-corrosion direction in the oil and gas industry is global science focused on?
Muradov: “The oil and gas industry corrosion” section has always been one of most highly-attended at EUROCORR events and I have no doubt that this will be the case in Russia, too. Of paramount importance here is the introduction of new structural materials, the creation of nano-coatings – a fundamentally new class – and, traditionally, the usage of inhibitors and electrochemical protection. These are the key areas which are well-developed in Russia. Attention is paid to developing new standards and regulations which target improving the reliability and quality of anti-corrosion solutions. The Congress will host several meetings of committees from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and a separate seminar will be dedicated to oil industry standards and white papers.
Still, one must recognize that the congress hasn’t been held in Russia earlier precisely due to the fact that foreign experts are not familiar with our projects. There are no publications by Russian scientists abroad and respectively there is no citation index (these were recently named by Russia’s president as the basic criteria of scientific merit). To remedy this situation, we’ve invited over a thousand foreign scientists to join the Congress. The University joined the Federation in 2000, but only after 10 years of hard labor, after demonstrating our work and making our presentations, did we manage to convince the EFC to hold the congress in Moscow.

OGE: This was probably due to significant breakthroughs?
Muradov: We have developments that are 15-20 years ahead of similar foreign projects.

OGE: Does this mean that scientific developments remain purely academic in Russia?
Muradov: The West does have a highly comprehensive culture of production and supplies. Our problem is that quite often companies have no corrosion departments whatsoever. Typically, anti-corrosion issues are the domain of a single technician, who might not even have a higher education. How can such person service an entire plant while he is also to track the latest developments and introduce cutting-edge technologies? A plant needs a team of highly skilled professionals who regularly monitor the facilities. Yet, no Russian university educates corrosion protection experts as such. There is not even such an entry in the official list of higher education professions. Engineers often come to us for training, but what can be learned in three months? Only the basics. Comprehensive education requires at least five years.

OGE: Could you elaborate on the level of Russian developments in the field of anti-corrosion? Is it possible to evaluate the competitive position on the global market?
Muradov: Competitive position is rather strong. Historically, we have very good basic education. Unfortunately, we are let down by a lack of equipment. In Russia, there are inherent issues with implementation; it’s not easy to overcome bureaucracy and a lack of faith in domestic science.

OGE: How badly does Russia need the technologies used abroad? How does one implement technology transfer in the field? Are there any specific examples to illustrate a successful technology transfer?
Muradov: Technology transfer is necessary only when we talk about something completely new. But I am not aware about anything of the kind in the field of contemporary corrosion science. If we are missing anything, it is only because we do not have the right equipment for manufacturing it. For example, Russian companies have started producing high-quality polyurethane coatings because they obtained the necessary equipment. I mean coating for pipes, storage tanks, coating that is resistant to aggressive environments. We cannot write off formaldehyde and epoxide coatings, either. There are also coatings that combine with corrosion inhibitors, as well as complex multilayer coatings. High quality coatings are made by 3M and DuPont, though our Yaroslavl coatings are on the same level. We just need to believe in our products. On the other hand, production culture, strict following of surface preparation and coating technology, and maintaining the coating preparation process are crucial here. We lose much because of these human factors, regardless of which particular solution – domestic or foreign – is applied.

OGE: Many are concerned with depreciation of Russia’s pipeline network. What do you think about replacement work being done, are you satisfied with its implementation rate?
Muradov: Approximately 70-80 percent of all depreciation is due to metal corrosion. In my opinion installation rate of the replacement pipes is sufficient. The thing is, in any business, whether you live in the house, ride in the car or transport oil and gas, diagnostic and repair routines are highly important. Regular repair work would remove the need for replacement. The standard life of a pipeline is between 20 to 50 years. But when an accident occurs because of careless servicing on a pipeline – the damaged pipe must be cut out and replaced with a new section. This costs much more than routine maintenance.
Today, the industry has non-invasive methods for evaluating and providing advance warning of probable failures, which in turn extends the service life of a pipeline. For example, since 1989 we have been ensuring corrosion protection at one of the largest European refineries in the Bulgarian city of Burgas refinery (the Lukoil Neftochim Burgas plant – OGE). Scientists from our university set up an anti-corrosion service at this huge plant (which matches in size the area inside Moscow's Garden Ring). This was bid work which could have been done by other companies, too – but at a higher price.

OGE: Has the University run any similar projects within the country?
Muradov: Yes, in Tatarstan and East Siberia. We’ve serviced storage tanks for Komineft and pipelines in Tatarstan. We’re engaged in projects targeting development of the adequate protection; sometimes we recommend coating, sometimes – electrochemical protection or inhibitors. Many university departments study corrosion-related issues, but all the research activities have been pooled together under the auspieces of the Anticorr International Training Center founded in 1990.

OGE: Corrosion protection of pipes plays a special role in the safe, reliable flow of crude oil. How well do the authorities and transportation companies understand this issue? Are current investments enough for efficient corrosion protection?
Muradov: It is unlikely that authorities or companies understand the problem well. Ten percent of a company’s investment into a pipeline project should be in corrosion protection. First, currently allocated funds are insufficient – only about 3 percent. Second, the issues of protection design are complicated: in fact, a new (composite) material is formed at the metal-coating border, with properties different from the initial properties of either material. We are working to change standards in this area and have already formed an association which will focus on complex coatings. I think companies are paying insufficient attention to corrosion protection issues. For example, gas giant Gazprom has only one department on corrosion protection. That company should at least have a directorate – the issue must be covered not by five people but perhaps by 50. Why build something new every five years, when adequate monitoring and routine repair could boost a pipeline life to 50 years?

OGE: How large are the corrosion-related material losses? How can they be reduced?
Muradov: Globally, corrosion accounts for some $2.2 trillion in losses, according to the estimates by World Corrosion Organization – this is about 3.4 percent of GDP in developed countries. And Russia’s share of this sum is considerable. Gazprom itself has over 150,000 kilometers of various pipelines. Russia’s overall pipeline network runs over 1 million kilometers in total. To solve the issue, Russia’s technological universities must run degree courses for “pure” corrosion experts – specialists educated precisely in the corrosion protection field. Currently, corrosion is being studied in the second, third and fourth year of university as a part of other degrees, mainly at the Mechanical Engineering Department.

OGE: Could you mention any examples of cooperation between RGUNG and companies in student placement agreements aimed at gaining practical experience – in labs, oil fields and project management?
Muradov: Our university runs joint internships with Gazprom and Lukoil. These companies take our students on scientific cooperation contracts, mostly to gain experience in corrosion-related projects in East Siberia and Orenburg Region.
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