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"Advanced Science and Technology at SUSTech" Series Report - Part 5

Oct 9, 2017 Research

Smart Marine Engineering Equipment: Enhance Exploitation of Deep Sea Resources to Bolster China’s Endeavor towards Becoming a Marine Power

Energy resources, which lay a foundation for social and economic development, are crucial for countries around the world to guarantee their core benefits. Oceans, which cover 71% of our planet’s surface, are a treasure trove rich in resources like petroleum, natural gas, and combustible ice. As land resources are drained, more and more countries have shifted their attention to the exploitation of marine resources.

With strong support from the Development and Reform Commission of Shenzhen Municipality and SUSTech, Professor Yong Bai and his team at the Department of Ocean Science and Engineering of SUSTech have established the “Shenzhen Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling Equipment and Pipe & Cable Engineering Lab”, which is geared towards strategic emerging industries and the industries of the future in Shenzhen. The lab aims to build bases for the development and testing of marine floating structures, subsea production systems, subsea processing systems, and subsea pipelines. To drive the industrialization of marine engineering equipment, the lab also strives to build labs that meet our development requirements, and now has two branches under construction: Marine Engineering Structure and Equipment, and Subsea Production System and Pipelines.

Equipment: A Priority for Tapping Marine Resources

China, a country that is rich in marine resources, exploits ocean development only in coastal areas. Due to a shortage of experience and capacity in deep sea development, it still has a long way to go to catch up with developed countries. Equipment matters most to the exploration and exploitation of marine resources. Marine engineering equipment for this purpose includes floating structures and resource exploration equipment. This industry requires huge investment, and has higher potential to present complete sets of products, and high output. It also gives great impetus to other industries, boosting the national economy. Major marine countries, therefore, are intensifying their development of emerging equipment and technologies for marine resources exploitation. In its Development Plan for National Strategic Emerging Industries in the 13th Five-year Plan Period and Made in China 2025, China also includes marine engineering equipment in its national strategies. As a key component of strategic emerging industries, it marks a major trend of high-end equipment manufacturing. In this light, China needs to develop high-end marine engineering equipment to promote the healthy development of its marine economy, and advance its “Marine Power” strategy.

As China accelerates exploitation of marine resources, primarily deep sea oil and gas resources, and increases corresponding policy support, breakthroughs are made in high-end marine engineering equipment, including FPSO and deep sea drilling rigs. China, however, still lags behind the United States, South Korea, and Singapore with respect to R&D, auxiliary equipment, and manufacturing efficiency. The United States and some European countries, holding in hand many key design technologies and patents, dominate the global market of high-end marine engineering equipment. It is imperative for China to independently develop high-end marine engineering equipment.

 “Made in China” High-end Marine Engineering Equipment

Marine engineering equipment is both an integral part of strategic emerging industries and a major direction of high-end equipment manufacturing. Driven by new technologies, the industry needs less material resources, and shows amazing potential and promising profits. It is a forerunner in developing the marine economy.

As technologies in information, materials and energy grow, new marine equipment appears, combining sensors, communication, “Internet+”, advanced materials, and power integration, and will have a growing impact on the transformation and development of marine industries. The developing Internet, big data, smart control, and artificial intelligence also increase demands for intelligent marine engineering equipment.

Research on high-end marine engineering equipment focuses on their mechanism, integration, intelligence, and implication. A well-functioning system to develop equipment for the exploitation and utilization of marine resources will drive China’s industrial restructuring and make “Made in China” high-end ocean development equipment possible.

Develop Intelligent Technologies for Deep Sea Exploitation

To accelerate China’s exploitation of deep-water resources, Professor Bai attaches great importance to major equipment and technologies for deep-water drilling by learning from advanced foreign technologies and developing innovations based on specific conditions. With these efforts, a complete technical system is in place, providing effective technical and equipment support to China’s deep-water exploration and exploitation. Professor Yong Bai directs his research to intelligent marine engineering technologies and equipment applicable for deep-water drilling, for example, the design of subsea pipelines, the dynamic positioning system for deep-water drilling rigs (ships), risers of drilling well for natural gas hydrate, and other cutting-edge technologies.

Flexible composite pipe (FCP) is considered the lifeblood for offshore engineering because it can replace steel pipelines and become an important component for offshore oil delivery. China now mainly applies imported composite pipes in offshore oilfields, and has not been successful in developing domestic made products in offshore projects, especially projects in deep water areas (>500m) and involving dynamic pipes. The research on the design of flexible composite tubes for deep-water tasks is of paramount significance. This will, on the one hand, help China break away from the monopoly of foreign suppliers, and on the other hand fill the vacuum of China in this respect, and lay a solid foundation to develop such tubes for deep sea use.

The dynamic positioning system is a key technology for building ships and offshore oil rigs, and also an indispensable system for floating offshore structures. As an industry driven by capital and technologies, it has close links with other industries and higher potential to drive them. The global market of the dynamic positioning system values about 4 billion dollars, and expands at an annual rate of more than 20%. Every year China has a potential market for DP3 valuing 2 billion yuan, including potential demands for over 200 ships equipped with dynamic positioning system. At present, China’s market in dynamic positioning system, in particular DP2 and DP3, is dominated by foreign brands like KONGSBERG. China can only develop and produce DP1 on its own. In this light, China needs to carry out research on and develop dynamic positioning systems that suit its requirements, and build semi-simulation testing platform, giving impetus to China’s progress in this respect.

Natural gas hydrate (NGH, also referred to as “combustible ice”), which is mainly found in permafrost and 300-3,000m waters along the continental shelf, and 90% of which is stored in deep sea, is regarded as a new alternative energy resource in the 21st century following shale gas, tight gas, coal bed gas and oil sands. Countries around the world have been attracted by its huge prospect and latent environmental influence to deepen their exploration, pilot exploitation and environmental assessment. Countries including the United States, Germany, Norway, Japan, India, South Korea and Vietnam have drawn up plans for long-term research. Given the high environmental risks associated with NGH exploitation, it is a hot topic of global technological innovation to tap natural gas hydrate in a safe and efficient manner. China also needs to develop, based on conditions in the South China Sea, an intelligent multi-purpose drilling and exploitation system. It will not only ensure safe and efficient pilot exploitation of natural gas hydrate at a lower cost, but also promote its large-scale production.

Realize Technological Industrialization to Make China a Maritime Power

Professor Yong Bai and his team work to put their research results into practical use by bringing together resources in universities, research institutes and industries. They enhance talent training in intelligent ocean development equipment, and develop high-end ocean engineering equipment. They also work for breakthroughs in the innovation and commercialization of key technologies, and promote their scale production and application in projects, contributing to China’s objective of becoming a maritime power. Professor Bai has directed dozens of projects concerning structural design, analysis and risk evaluation of large ships, subsea pipelines/risers, subsea production systems and offshore platforms. He also helped the marine engineering project team of Zhejiang University to establish a research lab on offshore structures. His team has developed the software for safe operation and risk evaluation of subsea pipelines, and a system for monitoring the leakage of subsea pipelines. What’s more, he launched research on the application of inner sleeves for subsea pipelines, the reliability and durability of flexible composite tubes, and test field for underwater production facilities.

Professor Yong Bai will take charge of the “Shenzhen Lab on Drilling Equipment and Pipeline Engineering for Marine Oil and Gas”, which is geared toward strategic emerging industries and the industries of the future in Shenzhen. The lab is jointly established by “CIMC Offshore Business” and “Offshore Oil Engineering”, local leaders in marine engineering, and receives support from the Development and Reform Commission of Shenzhen Municipality. The lab aims to build bases for the development and testing of marine floating structures, subsea production systems, subsea processing systems, and subsea pipelines. To drive the industrialization of marine engineering equipment, the lab also strives to build labs that meet our development requirements, and now has two branches under construction: Marine Engineering Structure and Equipment, and Subsea Production System and Pipelines. By following the example of leading universities such as MIT and NTNU in marine engineering research, it strives to have a share in the world arena.

Professor Bai and his team are working on the flexible composite pipe, dynamic positioning system, unmanned ships, and the drilling and exploitation equipment for combustible ice. They want to develop flexible composite pipes suitable for deep sea tasks and promote its scale production; set up dynamic positioning system and semi-simulation testing platforms for unmanned ships; and develop independent risers for NGH drilling. In this way, China will grow into a marine power soon. 

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