The Norwegian oil and gas industry is on the global front when it comes to the development and application of subsea technology for oil and gas. However, there is still need for new and innovative solutions to increase recovery and production from existing fields, reduce costs for new field developments, develop new demanding oil and gas fields (eg Arctic coats, deep water, etc.) and maintain reliability, safety, energy efficiency and the environment.
In order to accelerate innovation in the oil and gas industry in this field, a research-based innovation center (SFI), SUBPRO, has been established in collaboration with NTNU and 9 international oil companies / supplier companies, with support from the Norwegian Research Council. The center develops new knowledge, methods and tools for the design and operation of systems for subsea production and processing. The research covers a wide range from fundamental studies on drop dynamics, gas, oil and water treatment, process automation and control, field architecture and reliability to safety and environment. The center combines the industrial partners' advanced seabed expertise and experience with interdisciplinary research carried out by four internationally recognized academic environments at NTNU (Department of Chemical Process Technology, Department of Engineering Cybernetics, Department of Earth Science and Petroleum and the Department of Mechanical and Production Engineering).
An important activity is the separation of oil from water to avoid oil spills and good progress has been made here. The idea is that the separation will take place on the seabed to save energy by sending the water up to the sea surface. Four test rigs have been built for this purpose.
Two of the rigs are related to fundamental studies on how small oil droplets behave. In one rig, microfluidic methods are used to study the coalescence of droplets. In the other of the small rigs, a high-speed camera is used to study the opposite, namely breaking up droplets. In the two large test rigs, new improved methods for separation with compact pipe separators and hydrocyclones are studied.
About 60 people at NTNU are currently involved in the SUBPRO center (16 doctoral fellows, about 15 Master's students (annually), 5 postdoctoral fellows and 21 professors/assoc. professors and 2 researchers, in addition to administrative personnel).
The center is organized in five research areas that have been selected in close cooperation between the industrial partners and NTNU:
o Field architecture for seabed systems
o Reliability, Availability, Maintenance and Security (RAMS)
o Fluid characterization for separation and flow assurance
o Concepts for separation processes
o Process automation and control, digitization
The center started in August 2015 and is planned for 8 years.
So far, 210 academic publications have been produced.
So far in the project period, SUBPRO has educated 20 PhD candidates and completed 4 postdoc projects, distributed as follows in our five research areas:
o Field architecture for seabed systems: 1 doctoral fellows and 1 postdoctoral fellow (in addition to a completed PhD project where a dissertation is awaited)
o Reliability, availability, maintenance and safety (RAMS): 3 doctoral fellows and one postdoctoral fellow
o Fluid characterization for separation and flow assurance: 4 doctoral fellows
o Concepts for separation processes: 5 doctoral fellows and one postdoctoral fellow, in addition to an extended research project
o Process automation and control, digitization: 6 doctoral fellows and one postdoctoral fellow
Several of the current projects, both doctoral fellows and cheese doctors, will also be completed in early 2022.
In addition, several of SUBPRO's candidates have also completed innovation projects in collaboration with industry partners either during or after the end of the project.
The center collaborates with 14 outstanding international universities (MIT and Carnegie Mellon in the United States, 5 leading universities in Brazil, Imperial College, MINES ParisTech, University of Wageningen, Aalborg University, University of Aalen, University of Troyes and ETH Zurich).
Results are communicated to the industrial partners through reference groups and workshops. Results from the center have been disseminated at industrial conferences such as the Subsea Valley conference, Underwater Technology Conference, OG21 and Tekna seminars. The center also has cooperated with the Global Center of Expertise Ocean Technology.
The center has triggered associated projects, such as the INTPART project "Brazil Norway Subsea Operations Consortium 1 & 2", Safety 4.0 - Demonstrating Safety of New Subsea Technology, and AutoPRO - Digitalization for Prognosis and Autonomous Production Optimization in Offshore Production Systems.
Subsea production and processing is a key technology for exploitation of Norwegian and international oil and gas resources. New solutions are needed to reduce operation and development cost, to increase the recovery factor, to reduce implementation time for field developments, and to allow development of new more demanding fields, such as in the Northern areas and the Barents sea. In addition, subsea technology represents a new Norwegian export industry with strong development potential.
Subsea technology is a broad discipline that in principle could open for several centers for research-based innovation (SFIs). To limit the scope and improve the focus, several areas are defined outside SUBPRO, e.g. electric power systems and marine operations. Even without these areas, the subject area remains too large to be covered in depth by a single SFI project. Based on discussions with industry, the SUBPRO project will therefore focus on two main subject areas
1. Subsea systems engineering with 5 subareas: Modelling and simulation, design, safety, operation and monitoring, and control
2. Subsea separation with 5 subareas: Fundamentals of heterogeneous systems, solid/liquid separation, liquid/liquid separation, gas/liquid separation and new process concepts
In both these areas, the move from topside to subsea may require new solutions, which have not yet been applied to conventional topside facilities. By doing so academia and Norwegian operators and vendors will together create a robust basis for future international competition in subsea oil and gas production / processing and engineering. The SUBPRO SFI will strengthen the competitive forces of involved companies. Increased access to competent personnel at master and PhD level will result in sustained development and innovation within the oil and gas industry, far beyond the horizon of the SFI.