The Emerging Fuels Symposium 2023 – the future of pipelines in Australia, US and Europe

David Norman, Chief Executive Officer at Future Fuels Crc, reflects on the Australian pipeline and gas industry.

David Norman, Chief Executive Officer at Future Fuels CRC, reflects on the Australian pipeline and gas industry.

Australia’s pipeline engineering experts met their counterparts from the US and Europe in Florida to share the technical knowledge that is unlocking the future of pipelines as new fuels move to large scale deployment.

The US and Europe already have biomethane networks and hydrogen infrastructure that in Australia are still only at the development stage, but much of our technology innovation is matching or leading the world. I must acknowledge the hard work and technical leadership of all the Australian’s who made the trip, including three of Future Fuels CRC’s PhD students. The range of research was impressive, with so much compelling work coming from Australia:

Amrita Kambo, University of Queensland highlighted the role of safety as the most important factor the public considers, based on their latest research.

Jeremy Harris and I shared the enormous potential for future energy pipelines, using Future Fuels CRC’s own focused technoeconomic research work as well as Net Zero Australia’s economic modelling as a demonstration. As soon as any form of production at scale occurs or long duration energy storage is required, then pipelines become very advantageous, with long pipelines allowing significant linepack with minimal pressure cycling.

Craig Clarke, GHD and Bradley Davis, University of Wollongong outlined the progress of the Parmelia Gas Pipeline hydrogen conversion, with the testing to date showing that the existing pipeline steel could deliver satisfactory performance to provide a safe operating envelope with 10-year maximum inline re-inspection intervals.

Josh Wickham, GPA detailed Australia’s world-leading work on our Hydrogen Pipeline Code of Practice. This document is the first step in a journey to incorporate hydrogen ultimately into the existing AS2885 series standard, and brings together a comprehensive list of issues, knowledge and existing gaps into one reference material. It was widely discussed that all regions in the world are rapidly moving to codifying hydrogen, but this work puts Australia ahead of others at this stage.

Nolene Byrne and Sebastian Espinosa of Deakin University presented on the response of polyethylene and other polymer pipelines to hydrogen, including the effect on elastomer seals’ performance. Also from Deakin, Bob Varela covered how varying the CP current in response to rain can increase the local pH and prevent corrosion, creating new opportunities to better protect steel in-ground pipelines.

From the University of Adelaide, Douglas Proud highlighted the existing limit of non-combustible gases in natural gas and its future relevance for biomethane. And Peter Ashman presented on their wide-ranging research into the limits of hydrogen blends in existing gas appliances.

My highlights from the international presentations

Bill Caram from the US Pipeline Safety Trust delivered the opening presentation, imploring the industry to consider a safe energy transition and insuring we do not regress on pipeline safety. He highlighted that industry must be prepared to share and engage even more with the public. Bill also noted that the US’s massive IRA energy incentives appear to be ahead of regulation and the industry must take this opportunity to act strongly on safety in every step it takes.

An array of interesting and positive results from several testing locations working on small scale laboratory testing of tensile samples of steels in hydrogen atmospheres. This included work from Sandia in the US, Australia, Gasunie and several other locations in Europe.

Anders Johnson’s review of underground gas storage emphasised the potential for hydrogen storage which allows low-cost, large-scale storage, reinforcing the need to quantify the business cases that are competitive for underground storage and prioritise and action the research needs ahead of further commercialisation.

While in the USA for the Symposium, the team and I got to catch up with some of the key contacts in future fuels. We saw the fast growth of biomethane in California’s gas networks, the potential conversion of LA’s Scattergood 830MW gas power station to hydrogen, large operational hydrogen powered bus fleets and liquid hydrogen already being rolled out to refuelling stations across Los Angeles. It gives us all a view of what’s possible in Australia.

Many thanks to all the Australian team and to our hosts the US’s Pipeline Research Council International (PRCI), Australian Pipeline & Gas Association (APGA), the European Gas Research Group (GERG) and the European Pipeline Research Group (EPRG). These interactions are vital. By sharing technical knowledge across the globe we can create a safer, faster and more reliable future for the pipeline industry.

This article featured in the September edition of The Australian Pipeliner. 

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