Researchers from the School of Civil, Environmental and Mining Engineering (CEME) are playing a key role in UWA’s new research facility providing R&D expertise for the offshore oil and gas industry.
The $10 million ARC Research Hub for Offshore Floating Facilities is a multi-disciplinary research initiative launched in April 2016.
The aim of the hub is to tackle critical engineering challenges for offshore oil and gas projects by improving designs and operating procedures.
A team of CEME engineers is the driving force behind one of the hub’s five main projects: looking at how waves affect the operations of floating oil and gas facilities.
The CEME engineers include internationally renowned researchers such as Professor David White, Professor Liang Cheng, and Drs Scott Draper, Wenhua Zhao and Hugh Wolgamot.
According to Prof. White, who is the Director of the hub, their multi-disciplinary approach in effect means it provides offshore engineering expertise “from the sky to the seabed”.
He says the wave-structure interaction project is examining the effects of waves on FLNG vessels and vessel-to-vessel interactions in order to maximise production and offloading at FLNG facilities.
“If vessel motions are excessive, you can’t bring an LNG carrier offside to load the LNG,” Prof. White says.
“So forecasting the relative motions of a floating LNG facility and the carrier is very important.
“The aim is to allow the vessels to operate as much as possible, ideally 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
“If you can forecast better, you can be more confident about your operating windows and times and then you can produce more product, and remove possible bottlenecks in the production process.”
The research involves supercomputer simulations and collaborating with universities worldwide. The wave-structure interaction project is the latest challenge being tackled by Dr Scott Draper, the current Western Australian Early Career Scientist of the Year.
“To get those predictions right is very difficult because you have to predict the motions of two vessels very close to each other,” says Dr Draper.
“So we’ve got researchers using computational fluid dynamics (CFD) tools to model that interaction better using the Pawsey supercomputer at Kensington in Perth—one of Australia’s most powerful computers—to do simulations.
“Then we do physical model tests to validate the computer simulations at our partner universities—Jiao Tong University in Shanghai and Plymouth University in the UK—where they have big facilities.”
A second focus of the wave-structure interaction project involves researching the effects of what’s called ‘green water’, especially during extreme weather conditions such as cyclones.
“This is about predicting how much water will come on deck and what will be the impact of that water as it runs across the deck of an offshore structure,” says Prof. White.
“This is an important thing to understand because it affects your decision to disconnect the vessel and sail away from the subsea equipment if a cyclone approaches.”
The $20 million research hub initiative is jointly funded by the Australian Research Council and industry partners Shell, Woodside, Lloyd’s Register and Bureau Veritas.