Engineers at the University of Western Australia are vying to improve the cost structure of Australia’s energy sector with new research into the foundations of deep-sea oil and gas pipeline infrastructure.
The research – which has secured Federal Government funding –aims to improve the costs associated with developing offshore projects deemed too expensive to tap.
Professor Susan Gourvenec of UWA's Centre for Offshore Foundation Systems is seeking to debunk traditional ideas about the kind of foundations needed for pipelines and their associated infrastructure.
Gourvenec says the research will show mobile foundations are a safe and efficient way to support seabed infrastructure, challenging the notion that foundations need to be stationary.
Currently, foundations to support deep-water infrastructure are laid by pipe-laying vessels which have limited lifting capacity.
Increasingly foundations are required to resist larger loads, and conventional foundations become too big and heavy to be installed by the pipe-laying vessels, requiring a second ‘heavy-lift' installation vessel, pushing the project’s costs higher.
Gourvenec says the mobile foundations her team will develop are smaller, cheaper and easier to install.
"The traditional foundations are designed to stay in one place and absorbs any loads that is placed on it," she said.
"This research is going to try and demonstrate that it is possible to design foundations that can move tolerably across the seabed to absorb some of the load that are placed on the foundations from the pipeline infrastructure they support.
"We plan to have the design framework for people to be using certainly by the end of the project and we will develop it in an incremental way with feedback along the way from our colleagues in industry."
The research will involve geotechnical centrifuge modelling at UWA to develop a new understanding of mobile foundation-seabed interaction.
"Mobile foundations offer a technology to improve the viability of development of Australia's deepwater reserves that are currently ‘stranded'," Gourvenec said.