Reuse of offshore oil platforms and offshore wind farms

Safe dismantling and assessment of possible solutions for the re-use of offshore oil and natural gas platforms and offshore wind farms that have reached the end of their lives. These are the activities that will be carried out by the all-Italian team made up of Enea, as coordinator, Eni, Metaprojects, Irsps, Next systems engineering, Srs (research and development services) and Tim, who won the European Space Agency (ESA) tender.

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© Nathan Forbes on Unsplash

An Italian-led team comprising ENEA, as coordinator, Eni, METAPROJECTS, IRSPS, NEXT Ingegneria dei Sistemi, SRS Servizi di Ricerche e Sviluppo and Tim has won the European Space Agency (ESA) tender for the safe dismantling of oil and natural gas platforms and marine wind farms that have reached the end of their life, as well as the evaluation of possible ‘second life’ solutions. The INSURE (INnovation in SUstainable offshoRe dEcommissioning) project aims to use innovative technologies, drones, sensors, IoT and artificial intelligence systems as part of ESA’s ARTES 4.0 programme to explore new opportunities for using its satellite technologies.

INSURE will have two phases: the first will focus on a technical and economic feasibility study and extensive data collection using sensors, engineering services, logistics, laser technologies for monitoring and robotics. The second phase will be demonstrative, exploring possible solutions such as the use of exhausted wells as sites for storing carbon dioxide, the exploitation of platforms to produce solar or wind energy – reconverting the surplus energy produced into green oxygen and hydrogen – but also for tourism purposes or as an ‘educational gymnasium’ for students in the field of meteorology, wave dynamics and environmental and biological studies.

“The recent allocation of 70 million in the PNRR Complementary Fund for the recovery of platforms in the Adriatic off Ravenna demonstrates the public interest in the development of activities in this sector,” stresses Antonio Palucci, head of the ENEA Diagnostics and Metrology Laboratory. Despite the fact that the project is only in its early stages,” he adds, “it has already attracted the attention of many professional and institutional end-users interested in the implementation of new technologies for environmental monitoring and in the possible opportunities for redeveloping and converting obsolete structures for tourism or to produce green energy.

In particular, ENEA will make available its know-how and technologies, particularly laser sensors mounted on underwater drones for 3D underwater viewing and environmental monitoring of possible releases of pollutants. The drones, which can also operate in swarm mode, communicating with each other and with satellites, will also be used to investigate the state of platform structures. The information will be processed and returned in virtual and augmented reality for the project partners.

Eni will support activities on the subject of decommissioning, i.e. the final phase of the life cycle of assets belonging to the Oil & Gas sector and, in general, of industrial plants. An activity that is a fundamental part of the investment process, having important economic, social and environmental implications in the context in which it is carried out. Full compliance with the principles of sustainability in this phase of activities is consistent with the company’s mission, which adheres to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The transformation of unprofitable or decommissioned assets, which are given a new life and a sustainable, low-carbon future, is part of Eni’s strategy, together with the search for innovative solutions, processes and products aimed at reusing and enhancing the value of waste materials, to make the economic system more efficient, while minimising the consumption of resources and energy. Decommissioning represents an opportunity both in terms of employment and the regeneration of raw materials and assets which, at the end of the industrial life cycle for which they were designed, still have the potential to be reconverted and reused for other initiatives.

TIM will create, in collaboration with Olivetti, the Group’s IoT digital farm, a digital ‘Business Intelligence’ platform that allows real-time monitoring of the activities envisaged in the decommissioning plan. This innovative solution improves safety parameters and generates cost benefits. In particular, thanks to the adoption of Artificial Intelligence and sensors installed on offshore platforms combined with 5G, Narrowband-IoT communication signals and satellite communication systems, it will be possible to send the data collected to the control centre, which will be processed in real time, signalling any situations requiring maintenance.

METAPROJECTS, a private research organisation already working with ENEA at the Brasimone Research Centre (Bologna) on the EXADRONE project for the development of drones equipped with sensors for environmental control, will contribute to the INSURE project to build the drones and integrate ENEA technologies, taking care of the hardware, firmware and software design of the autonomous flying systems.

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NEXT Ingegneria dei Sistemi SpA will study the aspects related to SW solutions supporting the automatic management of positioning data for decommissioning activities. It will also analyse issues relating to the definition of flight plans for UAVs in support of logistics and safety of operations through the implementation of virtual/augmented reality with the support of the consortium partners. The “heart” of the system, being developed by NEXT Ingegneria dei Sistemi, will be the Fleet Management Tool capable of receiving real-time information from sensors installed on autonomous aerial platforms, boats and submarine vehicles, but also from satellite systems such as the Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), Satellite communications (SatCom) and Earth observation (EO) of the Copernicus system.

The International Research School of Planetary Science (IRSPS) of the University of Chieti-Pescara will provide its expertise in analysing geological and environmental system requirements to define guidelines for decommissioning and reuse of offshore platforms based on terrestrial and satellite technologies. IRSPS, as a spin-off of the university itself, is acquiring an off-shore platform in the Adriatic Sea, no longer operational, which can be used to carry out realistic end-to-end tests of decommissioning processes and to explore the feasibility of reusing the platforms as an “educational gym” for university students and for research in the fields of meteorology, wave dynamics and environmental and biological studies.

S.R.S. Servizi di Ricerche e Sviluppo has considerable specific experience in the design of decommissioning activities for industrial plants and in the consequent “Waste Management” activities. The experience gained, in particular, in the nuclear decommissioning sector has led it to specialise in the dismantling sector with specific reference to the following aspects: selection of cutting and dismantling techniques, definition of intervention procedures, confinement of work areas, minimisation of secondary waste, traceability of materials, identification of how to treat waste materials, management of waste materials. INSURE will take care of these non-secondary logistical aspects in detail.

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