​Canadian universities partner to tackle microbial-induced pipeline corrosion

A collaborative research project involving four universities in Alberta and Atlantic Canada has received major funding to address the issue of pipeline corrosion caused by microbial activity, reports the University of Calgary.

Kirsty Duncan, the minister of science, made the announcement in Montreal. The $7.8 million comes through Genome Canada’s 2015 Large-Scale Applied Research Project Competition.

It will support Managing Microbial Corrosion in Canadian Offshore and Onshore Oil Production, a four-year research project set to begin in January with an aim to improve pipeline integrity.

“To some degree, microbial degradation of pipelines is akin to a cancer diagnosis and treatment in the medical field,” says John Wolodko, one of the project leads and an associate professor and Alberta Innovates Strategic Chair in Bio and Industrial Materials at the University of Alberta.

“While there is significant knowledge and best practices in diagnosing and treating cancer, it is still not completely understood, and significant research is still required to further eliminate its impact to society.

“While this problem is complex, this pan-Canadian project brings together research groups from across Canada in different science disciplines to tackle this problem collectively. By bringing this multidisciplinary focus to this problem, it is hoped that this research will lead to a better understanding of the breadth of microbes responsible for microbial corrosion and will help academia and industry develop improved solutions to rapidly identify and mitigate this form of corrosion globally.”

“This work will definitely help to pinpoint how microbial activity causes corrosion in carbon steel infrastructure and help in its early detection so we can minimize leaks,” says Lisa Gieg, another of the three project leads and an associate professor of microbiology at the University of Calgary. “It’s not just about pipelines. This research will look at all points of contact between oil and steel in extraction, production and processing. This work can help make the industry safer.”

The team leads are rounded out by Faisal Khan, the department head of process engineering and the Vale Research Chair in Process Risk and Safety Engineering at Memorial University in St. John’s, N.L.

Also working on the project is Rob Beiko, a computer sciences associate professor and Canada Research Chair in Bioinformatics at Dalhousie University in Halifax, and Tesfaalem Haile, a senior corrosion specialist at InnoTech Alberta in Devon, Alta. Beiko will be building a database to analyse the microbiology and chemistry lab results, while Haile’s team will be working with the University of Alberta to simulate microbial corrosion in the lab and at the pilot-scale.

While researchers at Memorial University are involved in all stages of the project, Khan says his team’s focus is on how microbes cause corrosion.

“We know that microbes cause corrosion, but we are examining how they cause corrosion,” says Khan. “We are identifying the chemical source and how it reacts to the surface of the metal to cause corrosion. The risk models that we’re developing will link the corrosion process to the outcome. This will be very important for industry when evaluating their level of corrosion intervention and control and where to focus their resources on corrosion mitigation.”

The corrosion of steel infrastructure is estimated to cost the oil and gas industry between $3 billion and $7 billion each year in maintenance, repairs and replacement. Microbiologically influenced corrosion is responsible for at least 20 per cent of that cost.

The research team will take samples from a wide range of environments, including offshore platforms and both upstream and transmission pipelines, which are all associated with different fluid chemistries and physical characteristics. By using the latest in genomics techniques, the interdisciplinary team will be able to look for trends related to specific microbes and chemistries that lead to microbial corrosion. Ultimately, the project will lead to better predictions of whether microbial corrosion will occur in a given oil and gas operation.

All three project leads say the key to success in this project is collaboration. Bringing the experience, skills and expertise from across a range of disciplines and from multiple universities provides the best opportunity to succeed in finding solutions to ensure the safety of pipelines and other oil and gas infrastructure.

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