Plugging a gap.

By October 1, 2017Nuclear

Novel application of oil and gas technology to solve nuclear decommissioning challenge.

An established business with a global customer base in the oil and gas sector, Rawwater Engineering Company Limited (RECL) provides materials science and engineering solutions to oil and gas operators and service companies.

An innovative technology, the Bismuth Plug, was developed by RECL as a superior option to cement for sealing onshore and offshore oil and gas wells during decommissioning. The Bismuth Plug is a metal alloy with a composition that can be tailored to expand when it solidifies, according to need. It can seal large openings, or fill small cracks or pores, preventing leakage of fluids in a wide range of applications.

RECL identified a potential opportunity for this same molten metal alloy technology to be deployed in nuclear decommissioning as a novel system for containment and potential decontamination of radioactive surfaces.

After initial discussions with Sellafield Ltd and Game Changers delivery partners National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) and FIS360, an application was made to the Game Changers initiative for funding to assess the feasibility of transferring the technology from the oil and gas industry by implementing the molten metal alloy product and deployment system for sealing cracked walls underwater.

A successful application to Game Changers in October 2016 led to a £5k Game Changers award to cover RECL’s time and effort to prepare a poster, detailed proof of concept business case and project plan. RECL went on to present their project idea to relevant technical teams from Sellafield Ltd and NNL and gained feedback that the technology could potentially tackle one of their key challenges in decontamination and decommissioning of porous materials.

RECL prepared a business case expounding their proposal and the technological and commercial benefits. Support and feedback from Sellafield Ltd and NNL technical experts and FIS360 commercialisation specialists was provided throughout this process, to ensure that the business case and project plan addressed Sellafield’s needs.

This engagement with the end user helped RECL understand the industry pull for the technology and gave them the confidence that this was a viable commercial opportunity in a new market area for the company.

In January 2017 RECL pitched to the Game Changers Investment Panel with RECL making a strong technical and commercial case, matched to the needs of Sellafield. RECL was successful in securing £46k of proof-of-concept funding from the Game Changers Technology Innovation Fund towards their £65k project, with RECL investing the remaining £19k.

The funding awarded is being used to support technology development at RECL, leading to demonstrator trials that are scheduled for late 2017. If successful this could open up a significant new market for RECL and provide substantial cost savings for the UK’s nuclear decommissioning programme.

Bob Eden, MD of Rawwater Engineering Company Ltd: “It was encouraging to find that our Bismuth Plug technology was exactly the type of innovation that Sellafield was looking for through the Game Changers initiative. With our experience in the oil and gas industry, we were able to give Sellafield confidence that the technology had been proven in another field with similarly high standards of health and safety and quality.”

“Engaging with the Game Changers initiative has enabled our innovative technology to gain an accelerated level of interest across the Sellafield site and the funding awarded has given us confidence that there is a potential significant new market for our technology.”

In 2010 the Bismuth Plug was a world first for metal-to-metal plugging technology, and underpinned the launch of Rawwater’s Joint Industry Project to develop offshore plugging and well abandonment tools.

Rawwater are currently designing and qualifying large diameter offshore plugs deployable using electric as well as pyrotechnic heaters. As if the rigours of new technology qualification are not enough, their project partners have set a target life expectancy of ‘in perpetuity’.