Long-Term Investment In Corrosion Management Will Generate Greater Rewards

By Chris Fowler, Ph.D., Technical Director, Exova | March 2013, Vol. 240, No. 3

Chris Fowler, Ph.D.

Pipeline corrosion has enormous financial and operational implications for gas suppliers and distributors. As a result, the question of how best to tackle corrosion is beset by both cost and technical issues. Businesses can achieve a great deal by implementing long-term corrosion- management strategies, but many are reluctant to spend money on projects that do not deliver an early return in investment.

Corrosion management translates directly into asset integrity and extension of useful life – in other words, operational effectiveness and cost-efficiency. If equipment can be made to last longer as a result of good corrosion-management techniques, this will create greater profitability for the operator. The application of current technology can reduce corrosion losses by 30%, which feeds back into an organization’s bottom-line performance and boosts productivity.

Financial Argument For Lifecycle Management

High-performance corrosion-resistant alloys are certainly available, but they are expensive and unlikely to make an immediate, significant impact on the enormous preponderance of carbon steel pipelines, which account for 90% of the world’s stock. These new alloys combine the strength of steel with the resilience of lining and, in an ideal situation, businesses would make increasing use of them as part of an effective lifecycle management program.

The education of the industry’s key players in lifecycle costing is an issue that must be addressed urgently. In some cases, costings can show that higher initial investment in better materials and technology can greatly reduce operational maintenance, and hence reduce overall costs over a project’s lifetime. There are significant business benefits but sadly, many people simply aren’t aware of them.

Short-termism and the culture of instant returns is a serious problem. Prevention and mitigation of corrosion generates mid- to long-term returns, but governments and industrial investors are often more interested in quick wins, either for the next election or to satisfy shareholder demands for quick returns.

It’s a matter of some concern that an increasing proportion of short-term project schedules don’t allow room for any problems in material qualification because everything is wanted yesterday. In truth, corrosion management translates directly into asset integrity and extension of useful life – in other words greater long-term returns.

All too often rapid payback on investment is prioritized above preventing the corrosion of plant and equipment because it is perceived as neither “sexy” nor immediate. Senior management needs to have the financial benefits and savings explained in words they understand. Quite simply, their businesses will be much more profitable in the mid to longer term, if they build corrosion-prevention measures into their investment strategies.

On a more positive note, recent developments in coatings are helping the gas industry to manage corrosion issues more effectively and a pipeline protection exhibition in Edinburgh, Scotland which I recently chaired featured full-scale demonstrations of some of the many new coatings available.