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Steel to be replaced in the oil and gas industry

Published: 13 March 2019 - Sarah Mead

What’s popular now doesn’t always last forever, whether it’s mullets being in fashion or steel being the clear material of choice for the oil and gas industry. In an ever-changing climate, engineers and manufacturers are turning to alternative materials to overcome steel’s limitations. Here, Ben Smye, head of growth at materials search engine Matmatch, explains where the industry is shifting to and the benefits of new materials.

Steel is known for being strong, with variations of the material being suitable for different applications. Duplex steel is used for its high-corrosion resistance, forged steel for its strength and carbon steel for its resistance to wear. However, these materials are not completely resistant to corrosion, with cracks and splits appearing over time, posing risks to the industry.

In light of this, new materials are being sought to take on the role of steel in the oil and gas industry. But with new materials come new precautions and it is important that these new additions are as versatile as steel. One suitable alternative would be polymer-based composite materials, which are strong, do not corrode in the same manner as metals and have the added benefit of being more lightweight than steel.

Many composite materials possess greater strength-to-weight ratios than steel, which is particularly helpful when looking at transportation, especially for offshore applications where weight can often be an issue.

Applying coatings to existing materials is also an attractive option. The advantage to this approach is that there is no need for bulk materials and there is rapid development in the field. This results in a solution that is significantly easier to deploy with no weight considerations and a multitude of providers to choose from, making it the low hanging fruit of materials development in the oil and gas industry.

Each situation has its own set of requirements, with different priority given to each aspect. Cost and functionality are normally the key differentiators, with steel maintaining the status as the cheapest material for these applications. While bearing this in mind, it can often be more cost-effective in the long-term to invest in materials that will require less maintenance over their lifetime.

In other situations where pressure, temperature and corrosion resistance are the key priorities, steel will no longer be a viable option and so the most costly but effective materials will take centre stage.

It is unlikely that we will see steel become obsolete in the oil and gas industry due to its abundance, low cost and the ever-increasing developments in the steel industry. However, the increase in requirements for materials in the oil and gas industry will mean that other alternatives and advanced materials are set to increase in use.

So, while time has been called on the mullets of the 80s, it doesn’t look like steel is falling out of fashion just yet.

If you want to experiment with the materials you use for your products, browse Matmatch’s free online database of more than 80,000 materials at

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-October 2019+