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Corrosion Resistant Aluminum Components for Improved Cost and Performance of Ultra-Deepwater Offshore Oil Production
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The goal of this project is to develop critical technologies that will support the industry’s development of aluminum risers for ultra-deepwater drilling. The primary technical objective to support this project is the development of high strength, corrosion resistant weldments that connect 7XXX series aluminum riser flanges and pipes. A secondary technical objective with this project is the development of technologies that will mitigate the corrosion of 7XXX series alloys. Theses technical objectives will be accomplished by: 1) Development of a friction stir welding process to join forged 7XXX aluminum flanges with extruded 7XXX pipes. 2) Establishing a post weld heat treatment schedule for 7XXX aluminum joints to improve corrosion resistance and weld strength. 3) Exploring cold spray applications as a corrosion mitigation strategy. 


Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) – Richland, WA 99354


Commercial oil production from conventional deepwater (<7000 feet) resources has been successfully demonstrated on three separate aluminum riser systems operating in Brazilian waters. More than 12 years of continuous service at depths up to 7200 feet have shown that low strength aluminum risers are viable in seawater environments.  Moving aluminum riser technology to ultradeep water (>7000 ft) requires the use of higher strength aluminum, such as 7XXX alloys, which present several critical challenges. For example, 7XXX aluminum risers were used to achieve water depths of 9,900 feet in the Perdido Oil Field, but corrosion issues encountered during the project prevented long term use of the aluminum riser string. One of the largest challenges is riser strength. The relatively low strength of aluminum alloys currently deployed in deepwater applications is insufficient for ultra-deepwater. In order to use existing deepwater riser designs (low strength aluminum) for ultra-deepwater applications, the flange and pipe wall thicknesses would have to be significantly increased to support the higher tension load (due to increased depth) and increased fatigue loading inherent to longer riser strings. This added mass would entirely negate all of the weight saving advantages of aluminum. Changing to 7XXX series aluminum requires development of the welding process that joins a forged flange to an extruded pipe, and post-weld heat treatment schedules to improve corrosion resistance and strength of the weld. 

Another challenge is seawater corrosion. Deepwater aluminum risers rely solely on sacrificial anodes to mitigate corrosion. Industry views this approach as too risky for ultra-deepwater applications due to the increased surface area of the longer riser string and greater current fluctuations across extreme water depths. To mitigate this risk, a defense-in-depth approach is proposed where a corrosion protection strategy will employ both sacrificial anodes and a corrosion coating system applied to the fabricated riser.

Detailed financial analysis has shown that replacing steel production risers with aluminum is a promising approach to dramatically improve the economics of oil production from ultra-deepwater resources. For example, extending the offshore depth from 4000 feet to 9000 feet would cost an estimated $33M using aluminum risers compared to $200-300M with conventional steel risers. This is because the use of steel risers requires that rigs be significantly modified to increase deck load capacity, an extremely expensive proposition. 


The replacement of steel with aluminum for construction of risers will greatly improve the economic feasibility of oil production from ultra-deepwater resources. Successful completion of this project will strengthen the upstream sector by enhancing the ability of the oil and gas industry to target resources that are currently beyond economic reach.

Specific benefits of aluminum risers include 34% weight reduction compared to steel, higher strength to weight ratio, lower string tensioning force, reduced deck load per foot of riser, and reduced transport costs which all lead to deeper and more cost-effective drilling capability. Despite this largely untapped global, and particularly US, opportunity for ultra-deepwater oil production, there remain significant materials, joining, and corrosion challenges that are currently preventing the deployment aluminum risers for ultra-deepwater applications. This project aims to address these technical barriers, thereby accelerating the transition from steel to aluminum production risers by industry.

Accomplishments (most recent listed first)
  • Completed 1st Phase of the corrosion mitigation studies by developing the cold spray process and downselecting metal coating chemistry
    • Completed preliminary process development and sent specimens to West Moreland Testing and Research Inc for saltwater corrosion performance per ASTM D1141 and ASTM G31. Coatings were ranked on corrosion protection performance. Based on test results, downselected Ni-CrC/NiCr for further cold spray development.
    • Completed microstructural characterization and wear testing of Ni-CrC/NiCr, Al-Zn-In, Al-Al2O3-ZrO2-SiO2 cold spray layers which also supported down selecting of Ni-CrC/NiCr for further investigation
  • Completed readiness activities for transitioning cold spray process from Penn State University to PNNL for deposition of Ni-CrC/NiCr with first trials scheduled for 1/31/2022.Completed 1st Phase of Friction Stir Weld development 
    • Successfully increased the welding speed up to 200 mm/min. (more than 100% faster than FY19-FY20 efforts) with new tool design and modified thermal boundary conditions. 
    • The weld strength reduction factor (joint efficiency in terms of Yield Strength of base material) of 70% was achieved with new approaches (compared to previous reported 65%, end of project target is 80%) 
  • Developed a trailing water spray system used during welding to cool the Heat Affected Zone (HAZ) and improve properties
    • Yield Strength improved (13-19%) and Ultimate Tensile Strength improved (13-18%) with trailing water spray compared to in-air welding
  • Developed a Composite Backing Plate anvil to selectively extract heat during welding
    • Yield strength was improved by 9% with composite backing plate compared to steel backing plate.
    • Xymat Engineering fabricated a full diameter, full wall thickness, 10-foot-long riser section using Friction Stir Welding. This demonstrator utilizes 30-inch diameter forged flanges joined by FSW to a 10 foot long, 1 inch wall pipe section. Pipe and Flange are AA 7175. This riser section is the first demonstration of a full-scale FSW fabricated riser using ultra high strength aluminum alloys.
Current Status

Due to COVID-19 issues related to reduced lab access and supply and subcontract availability, the project has been granted a NCTE to Sept 30, 2022.  Milestones 4 and 5 related to cold spray coatings and corrosion testing will be completed in the 1st and 2nd quarters of calendar year 2022 and the final milestone 6 will be completed by late summer 2022.Additional Process development is underway to improve strength and corrosion performance:

  • Induction pre-heating of the plate immediately ahead of the tool to reduce the processing forces and increase weld speed
  • Surface friction stir processing after welding of the heat affected zone to improve the HAZ microstructure has been completed. Subsequent heat treatment, hardness measurement and corrosion testing are underway.
  • Continuing robust tool design approaches for increasing welding speed beyond 200 mm/min. on AA7175 with minimizing reaction force on tool and eliminate tool failure occurrence (considering both tool feature and tool materials aspects) 
  • Welding 1” thick AA6110 at welding speed up to 300 mm/min. with new tool and applied thermal boundary condition changes for improved joint performance
Project Start
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DOE Contribution


Performer Contribution


Contact Information

NETL: David Cercone ( or 412-386-6571)
PNNL: Glenn Grant ( or 509-375-6890)

Additional Information