Podcast Transcript: Applying Thermal Spray Aluminum at a Major LNG Plant

Bo Andersen, product manager for thermal spray aluminum (TSA) at Integrated Global Services (IGS), shares experiences and lessons learned from his company's pilot project at one of Nigeria LNG's six operational trains for liquefied natural gas (LNG). 

Topics discussed on the podcast include benefits of the technology; how it can be safely applied in an online plant environment; and challenges overcome during the project. See below for a complete transcript.

Source: Integrated Global Services, www.integratedglobal.com

[introductory comments]

Ben DuBose: Bo, welcome to the podcast. How are you?

Bo Andersen: I’m good. Thank you, Ben, for inviting me. I’m thrilled to be here.

BD: Thank you for joining. For anyone listening, both Bo and myself are based in Houston, so it’s been a heck of a week trying to schedule this podcast, given the power and water outages and just the absolute crisis that’s going on in Texas right now with regard to the winter storm and all the related effects from losing power for days. As of Friday afternoon, both myself and Bo are fully back online, so we were able to get this podcast scheduled.

What we’re going to try to do today, we’ll talk a little bit about the thermal spray aluminum technology, again TSA. But there’s also a very interesting case study that IGS recently did with Nigeria LNG, talking about how this is actually applied in the field and some of the unique benefits of this technology. We’ll get to that as we make our way through this case study podcast. That’s something that we do. We talk to various experts in corrosion control, but we also want to break down how these technologies can be applied from time to time. This is one of those. I think it’s pretty interesting why it offers benefits for that type of environment. We’ll get to that.

But a good place to start off, Bo, tell us a little bit about your role at IGS, for anyone that’s unfamiliar with you or the company. Give us a little bit of background about the types of services that you all provide as it pertains to corrosion.

BA: Basically, IGS is providing a line of services to the oil & gas industry plus other industries, and we do different kinds of coating. We have high-velocity thermal spray. We do zinc alloys and stuff like that. We do internal corrosion protection in pipes, too. But my job is to do the TSA as a product manager, which means I’m on the technical side of business development, really. That’s what I’m doing. I don’t know if I should go into what TSA is, just a brief overview?

BD: Yes, sure.

BA: TSA is a pretty common technology, really. It’s globally accepted to mitigate CUI, which is corrosion under insulation. It is, I would say, enthusiastically supported by all the petrochemical majors. Also in the oil and gas industry, Shell, BP, ExxonMobil, and so on. TSA is a very well-proven technology, and it’s been in mainstream for at least the last 50 years. But the first TSA was done about 1893, so it’s been around for a long time.


BD: What are the benefits as far as the implementation? The writing that I’ve done about TSA, what it looks like to me is that one of the benefits is that there’s not necessarily the same type of downtime for a plant that has a clear economic incentive to remain operational. I know you all at IGS work a lot with LNG, refineries, petrochemical plants, those types of environments. What is unique about the implementation of the TSA technology relative to some other protective coatings or general anti-corrosion solutions that are out there?

BA: The uniqueness is not so much in time, because it’s more or less the same time as painting, really. It won’t take more time than that. The unique thing is being put on an aluminum veil that completely connects to the metal, to the pipe, which means that there’s no way you can get any humidity or corrosion under that due to the humidity. It lasts for a long time.

BD: How long does it generally last?

BA: Compared to — let’s compare to what they usually did, which would be paint to protect it. Paint has to be reapplied every 5–10 years unless you get some very big problems, which I’m sure we’re going to talk about a little later. But TSA, if it’s applied correctly, it doesn’t need any inspection or maintenance for at least 20 years. When we say inspection or maintenance, then we also mean that you only will inspect it after 20 years and see it’s still okay, because if it’s applied correctly it will be okay. Then it can last another 20 years before you inspect it again.

In terms of longevity, it’s really good compared to paint because you have to apply it one time. It might cost a little more to begin with. It’s not really a lot more in cost, but a little more to begin with. But since you don’t have to do it again in 5 or 10 years, you certainly save money in the long run. Plus you’re sure that your equipment is protected.


BD: What’s the benefit, specifically, for downstream oil and gas? I know that’s big focus for you guys. Why does this make sense for them specifically in that type of environment?

BA: It makes sense for them, and it makes sense for any kind of production that is sending gases or liquids through pipes under high pressure and usually high temperature, too. Because in that case, you get humidity on the outside of the pipe, no matter if it’s — well, it will be insulated — but it will come under the insulation, and that humidity you get there is going to do corrosion or rust and deteriorate the pipes real fast. So in those kinds of environments, it makes perfect sense to use it.


BD: What is the IGS model? I know this is different than a typical job using protective coatings. Obviously, there’s the manufacturer of the coatings, and then you’ll have a contractor or someone that’s trained to apply those coatings. What’s the relationship that you guys have? I know that there’s a training component to it. Obviously, you manufacture the technology, but what’s your role as far as supervision, training of the application to ensure that this is applied correctly?

BA: We have training classes for technicians. We have training for supervisors. Everybody needs to be trained to do it. Of course, at IGS we pride ourselves to be high-end service provider. So we make sure the quality is at top on everything.

BD: With that as the backdrop, I want to transition to the case study that we led off this podcast discussing, that being Nigeria LNG. What were some of the issues before they turned to your TSA solution? Let’s start with the background of the plant, and then what were some of the issues that they were having with their original form of corrosion protection?

BA: NLNG was established in 1989, and in 1997 they started their first train of liquefied natural gas on Bonny Island, which is on the side of Nigeria. Out in the water, so that means they have a lot of hot, humid, and very salty environment. Salt is, of course, a very big issue, too, if you have that in the air all the time. Anyway, what they did back then was, they protected the pipes, the vessels, and heat exchangers, but they did it a way that was standard back then, which was to paint them. Then of course covered the paint with insulation. Now, 20 years later, they find out that the CUI has turned into a very big problem for them. A lot of their pipes were not bursting yet, but they were about to. It was very close. They couldn’t ignore that problem, because it could result in fires, explosions, environmental damage, loss of life, loss of profit and production dollars, of course. They were kind of forced to do something.


BD: You mentioned earlier that TSA is at least a little bit more expensive. Why were they willing to make that investment? What was it that convinced them that they needed to take an extra step in terms of being proactive and going with that type of technology?

BA: They obviously considered to repaint again all the piping, either with a similar paint or a new kind of paint. They considered that, but then again, they realized they would have to redo it again in 5–10 years unless they wanted to be in the same situation they were in now. One thing they really don’t like is to have to stop the plant all the time. So they decided to look at TSA instead because they knew that it will last a lot longer. Then we looked at that.


BD: With regard to TSA, I know that the benefit to them, as I mentioned earlier, it can be applied in an online environment. Being applied in an online environment, that’s how you can recoup a little bit of cost savings. But there’s also some safety concerns with that. How did you all address that fear on their end, that they could be in an online environment and that you’d be able to apply this new system?

BA: That’s the thing. In terms of doing TSA, like I said earlier, it’s a common technology. Basically, there’s a lot of people out there doing TSA. IGS is positioning ourselves in a different league because we are doing something nobody else is doing. What we are doing here and what we did develop specifically for NLNG, really, was that we had to do the TSA in a live environment, and in a live environment when there’s pressure inside the pipe. What could happen is, at a time — especially when you’re blasting before you do the TSA — you could get a small hole and a small hole will result in a lot of gases coming out in a very fast time. This gas will be either explosive or highly flammable. In case of that — and we are on a live plant — the objective would be to keep it away from any outside source of ignition, like the next tower over there could be somebody doing something… and there was a spark. A lot of things could happen.

What we did was to design a system. The first thing we did was make sure we could contain any possible leak. We did that by erecting a nearly airtight habitat — also known as an enclosure. Nothing will ever be 100% airtight, but we try to do it as much as possible. Of course, a nearly airtight habitat gives a lot of other challenges. There are issues with blasting, which produces a lot of dust. So blasting inside an enclosed area will make it almost impossible to see anything. Also in case of a leak, like I said, that will fill the enclosure with gas in no time, and people working there would have to get out real fast. And of course, it gets very hot in there. Our solution was to create a patent-pending ventilation system for this. Something nobody ever did before. The habitats in themselves are well known in the industry — mostly used for hot work, but also used with positive pressure, which means it would keep out gases. In the case, we have to keep gases inside.

The way we did this, in a short story, is we used an HVAC system to introduce cool and dehumidified air into the habitat. That means, of course, it’s more comfortable to work in there. You get fresh air, and you get air without humidity, which is one of the things that is necessary for TSA, to keep the condition within certain humidity limits and certain temperature limits. You get that with the HVAC system. Then to get the dust out, from the blasting especially, we used a dust collector that is extracting the air out to a safer area. By doing this together, and the way we did it, we created a negative pressure atmosphere, which means that everything will stay in there as long as the system is running.

The system itself is basically designed all the way around to address the concerns from NLNG and from others about safety. It’s designed as an emergency shutdown system that continuously will monitor everything that is going on inside the habitat, but also in the area outside the habitat. We want to know if we get gases from other places that could get close to us. With the system monitoring this constantly, we will also be able to instantaneously shut down everything. Any work inside, outside the habitat. We can close everything down in case we get a leak or we get another kind of alarm. An alarm will trigger the shutdown for sure.


BD: How did this get done, this type of work, before you had this system? Was it during maintenance turnarounds, I’m guessing, at the plant? What was the process for you all or anyone providing the TSA technology, the application of it, if this system didn’t exist? Would they have to wait for a turnaround?

BA: Yes. In most cases, they would have to wait for the turnaround. And in a turnaround, there’s a lot of other activities going on, so that would be — not a lot of TSA that could be done in that period of time because it would be in a limited area and other activity is going on. That was one of the things that NLNG was concerned about, too. The plant is more than 20 years old, and it consists of 6 trains, and all of them need to be fixed up with TSA, so to speak. They made a conservative estimate on that, saying that it would take them at least 30 years to do TSA on all 6 trains if they had to do it through turnarounds. We gave them the solution. We could do it online in as safe as possible way. In that case, we expect to do it between 6 and 10 years instead. It’s still a lot of time, but there’s also a lot of stuff to be done on that place.

BD: It’s a lot more realistic than 30 years, I’ll tell you that much.

BA: Yes, it is, really. The thing is, before they did this, they did it in turnarounds. Now the benefit for them, apart from going from turnaround, that is they take it over to maintenance. That moves the budget from the turnaround to the maintenance, which is a lot easier. It’s a lot easier to get money for maintenance than for turnarounds.


BD: The recent project that you all completed, it was basically a pilot project on one of the trains, right?

BA: Yes, it was only on a part of one of the trains.

BD: If it takes them 6–10 years, generally, it sounds like any given train, considering the logistics and obviously, I’m sure conditions are going to vary from one to the other — but it sounds like each train would generally take 1–2 years. Is that a fair ballpark?

BA: Yes, it is.

BD: Just curious. Obviously, there’s going to be variants from one to the other, depending on the specific needs. What are some of the challenges when you all are in that environment? I know you completed the pilot project, but you’re going to have more as well. Nigeria LNG, there’s a lot of factors at play. The African environment. What are the unique things that you’re trying to overcome when you’re applying this new TSA system for it to work in that type of environment?

BA: There’s basically two things. One thing is climate, really. Climate with high humidity, heavy rain, and thunder almost every day. They are in the area where you have area almost every day, a lot of rain. Obviously, one of the good things about our solution is you can actually perform this in all kinds of weather because you’re inside. The other thing you have to work with in a country like Nigeria is they have some rules about local content, which is understandable, but that also means we need to utilize local technicians, and we obviously have to train them. There’s some knowledge transfer so they can be better in the future. It’s not a big challenge, but it’s something you have to consider, that you would have to use time to do that, to train the locals.

BD: How pleased has the client been, NLNG? What kind of feedback have you gotten as far as your ability to overcome those challenges and perform the work?

BA: As far as it goes with our safety solution for this, they were very happy. We certainly did all we could in the right way, and we performed better than expected, I would say. That is why we also expect to go back and hopefully do most of the other 6 trains.

BD: Just waiting on authorization from them, I assume. I’m guessing, has the pandemic slowed it down at all?

BA: Yes. NLNG has more or less been shut down, like of course, international travel is really, really hard, so right now we are kind of waiting a little bit.


BD: I should have asked you earlier, but when you were explaining the rain and thunder almost every day and the climate considerations at play, what is it about the TSA that makes it something that can be handled in that environment? I know you’re creating the indoor containment anyway, but what is it about the technology that allows it to be applied in unique environments such as that?

BA: Basically, it’s melted aluminum that has been shot out and applied. You can do that, but of course you couldn’t do that in heavy rain. You had to do it inside. But yes, it will work great in an environment like that. That exactly what they need.

BD: Just trying to understand a little bit and paint a picture for how it works. Anyway, I think this is a good place to wrap up. Certainly, it’s a fascinating technology and a useful case study. Anything about this project that we haven’t discussed in the last 20 minutes or so that you think our listeners might want to know? Any lessons learned from this as you hopefully do the other 5 trains of the project?

BA: I don’t think we are missing anything. Not right now. Everybody’s welcome to contact me or contact us, and we can give you a lot more information.

BD: Okay, let’s leave off there. What is your contact info, or for IGS? How can folks get in touch with you if they want more information or resources?

BA: We have two options. One option is to go to our website, which is www.integratedglobal.com, where there is a lot of info also a lot of info on solutions. There will also be contact info. Anybody is also welcome to write me on my email, which is bo.andersen@integratedglobal.com.

BD: Bo, with that, we’ll wrap up. Thank you so much for joining the podcast.

BA: Thank you for letting me in.

[closing statements]