Holistic material selection for more sustainable assets
Other sectors Maritime Oil and gas

Today, the common approach for structural engineers in the oil and gas, maritime and energy sectors is to use simple material models with tabulated yield and tensile properties. The selection of any material for any structure tends to be governed by prescriptive rules and standards that follow a traditionally conservative approach that does not reflect either the development of materials or the given structure’s full utilization or response in case of accidental events. Yet, from a safety and sustainability perspective, it has never been more important to investigate the potential of new and improved materials and fabrication processes to derive at a more optimized design solution. A better fundamental understanding of materials, combined with digital solutions, new manufacturing methods and the use of sensor data during operation can revolutionize our approach towards design.

A holistic material selection is essential to develop not only safer, but truly sustainable products requiring multidimensional assessments of materials, production and final product performance. The holistic way of designing will become increasingly important, reflecting the life-cycle cost and environmental footprint of a product, by addressing raw material shortage, fabrication friendliness and designing for recycling.

At present, the selection and industrial application of materials generally uses conservative estimates that delay the introduction of new materials technologies. Asset owners want to ensure robust and safe operation. Yet they also want the advantages of using state-of-the-art materials and technologies.

In fact, sustainability thinking is rooted in a recognition that the status quo must always be challenged and refined through acknowledging that continuous improvement is always a possibility. For example, new concepts can be built around a fail-safe material philosophy where, in rare events, a structure may fail but not cause damage to people or the environment. Some examples of concepts where materials are designed to fail in specific, well-controlled ways with minimal human and environmental cost include: leak-limit states for pipelines; crash boxes in cars; and, fail-safe and energy-absorbing glass in car windscreens and building windows that minimize personal injury in the event of crashes, explosions or terror attacks.

DNV GL has developed an approach to materials stewardship that would reduce the flow of materials through the economy according to the strategies of Design for Multiple Lifecycles, Dematerialization, Durability, and Diversion of Waste Streams. Studies are currently underway, for example to use existing offshore pipelines to transport hydrogen and CO2 and to use former oil and gas facilities as platforms to capture wind, solar, wave and tidal energy. The European Commission has adopted an ambitious Circular Economy Package, which includes proposed legislation and action to improve product lifecycles through greater recycling and re-use and bring benefits for both the environment and the economy with a target to recycle 65% and 75% of municipal waste and packing waste respectively by 2030.

What lies ahead?

The material life cycle from exploitation of minerals to wastes will be a key driver for selection of materials, processing, manufacturing and distribution to end consumers. Sustainability and minimizing the carbon footprints will be crucial.

To meet societal demands for sustainable products, design requirements need to be transformed into an assessment of both the material process and properties needed for a specific product. Materials will be purpose built for intended use, with different behaviour along a component, like ductility, stiffness, corrosion resistance etc. By 2030, we can take full advantage of tools and opportunities offered by big data to help inform and establish data-based safety factors for design purposes. In addition to data-driven methods, the science of materials failure must keep advancing: It is not sufficient to know when materials and structures fail. We need to know why.

We anticipate that traditional materials, such as steels and concrete, will continue to form the bulk of those used by society. Sustainability also requires reducing the wastage and increasing the recycling of materials. Even traditional materials offer opportunities for innovation. Examples include enhancing decommissioning approaches for greater recycling efficiencies; using alternative amendment materials in concrete to delay corrosion and improve safety and durability; and, replacing mild steel rebar (reinforcing bars) with stainless steel in reinforced concrete structures.


Main author: Agnes Marie Horn

Editor: Mark Irvine

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