With new technologies bringing the promise of increased benefits and solutions for the oil and gas sector, the Oil and Gas Innovation Centre (OGIC) is looking to increase investment in emerging technologies and encourage more open collaboration across the sector.

ROVs have been used in the offshore sector for some time. However, advancements in autonomous robotics technology with the ability to learn, adapt and make decisions independent of human control is providing enhanced solutions and benefits for subsea operations.

A recent McKinsey study into disruptive technologies estimates that by 2025 advanced robotics and autonomous systems (RAS) will have a total impact on the global markets of between $1.9 trillion and $6.4 trillion per annum. The report also highlighted the potential competitive advantage of such technologies for early adopters, who could gain quality, cost and speed advantages over competitors.

According to Innovate UK, there is great potential for new applications and opportunities to grow as technical capabilities extend and the energy sector gains an increased understanding of the potential gains.

Subsea use

With RAS helping to reduce health and safety risks, provide cost efficiencies and create new exploration opportunities, there is now a growing trend within the subsea sector to move toward greater utilization of this technology, in particular autonomous vehicles.

“Swarming” robots that can work together alongside humans and quickly sense and react to their environment have the potential to revolutionize search and rescue operations as well as perform operational tasks more efficiently in hazardous deepwater environments. The benefit of enabling companies to inspect and assess the integrity of subsea infrastructures in safer and more effective ways is also of increasing interest to the renewable energy sector as well as the decommissioning industry.

To ensure that companies within the oil and gas sector and the wider energy industry have every opportunity to access RAS technologies, OGIC is identifying and investing in R&D projects in this emerging market. By connecting oil and gas companies with relevant academic expertise in Scottish universities as well as providing part funding for viable projects, OGIC is helping to ensure that real industry problems can be explored and resolved using cutting-edge technologies.

Subsea repair

A recent project that was facilitated by OGIC in this area involved an R&D partnership between Heriot-Watt University and the sonar and underwater systems company Hydrason Solutions Ltd.

In collaboration with OGIC, Heriot-Watt University’s Ocean Systems Laboratory (OSL) worked with Hydrason Solutions on the development of a specialist system to improve the maintenance and repair operations of subsea structures, specifically pipelines and power cables.

Applying its extensive knowledge in underwater sensing technologies, the OSL made a significant advance in improving low-frequency sonar technology for offshore oil and gas surveys. This has the potential to provide enhanced information for key challenges in fl ow assurance, condition-based maintenance and integrity management.

New sensors such as the wideband sonar provide new information through intelligent application of bioinspired sensing and processing. Accessing the quality of information in the harsh subsea environments will improve the sensing and operational capabilities of the new generations of subsea robots currently being developed for use in the offshore energy sector.

The Wideband Sonar System, shown onboard the vessel, took part in field trials in the Mediterranean. (Source: Hydrason Solutions Ltd.)


Industry collaboration

Collaborations such as that of Heriot-Watt University and Hydrason Solutions have the potential to bring further cost efficiencies for the sector. However, more importantly, collaborations also enable increased access to expertise to find innovative solutions and improved processes for current industry challenges.

OGIC is seeing real benefits with the projects it is facilitating for the sector, and it is keen to increase the number of projects with emerging technologies, especially in RAS, which are generating a lot of interest in the sector right now.

By facilitating access to R&D facilities such as the OSL at Heriot-Watt University and supporting projects with part funding, companies are getting the opportunity to do more feasibility studies and accelerate concepts to the development stage, where prototypes and field testing can be explored.

Hydrason Solutions CEO Chris Capus said, “For Hydrason, the collaborative project sponsored by OGIC has pushed development of our sensors toward lower frequencies, which are required for oil and gas infrastructure. We were pleased with the progress made while working with the team at Heriot-Watt University. Continuing this development, our current focus is to extend the operating depth for our systems to 3,000 m [9,843 ft] to meet the mounting challenges of deepwater oil and gas exploitation.

“Together these advancements will provide new sensing capabilities for pre- and post-installation surveys looking into the sub-bottom sediments and for a greater range of subsea structures for the oil and gas and renewables energy sector.”

Dr. Keith Brown, associate professor at the OSL, emphasized the need for investment and collaboration across the energy industry.

“We are working to increase the use of autonomous vehicles in the offshore energy sector as it will help the wider industry, the environment and ultimately the consumer in several ways,” Brown said. “The project from OGIC has helped us to work with Hydrason Solutions to create a specialist system to be used for analysis and to tackle issues with assessing the condition of subsea assets. The project has been valuable in bringing our organizations together to determine what is achievable.”

With emerging technologies providing faster and more efficient solutions for current industry challenges, it is vital that the sector does not ignore the potential value of investing in niche markets such as RAS. This technology can provide new opportunities for deepwater exploration and improved processes that are not only safer and faster but also more costeffective to deploy.

Within Scottish universities there is a wealth of expertise and facilities dedicated to advancing new technologies and innovative solutions for the sector. However, the greater challenge may not be finding the investment but changing the mind-set of the industry to share knowledge and be more open to the benefits of shared resources through collaborative projects.

With the objective of driving innovation in the sector, OGIC continues to actively engage with those companies that see the benefit of investing in these important niche market technologies. A continued investment and collaboration in these projects is not only vital for the future of the sector but also vitally important to maintain Scotland’s lead in innovative technologies for the oil and gas sector, both in the U.K. and globally. 

Have a story idea for Offshore Solutions? This feature highlights technologies and techniques that are helping offshore players overcome their operating challenges. Submit your story ideas to Group Managing Editor Jo Ann Davy at jdavy@hartenergy.com.