Plastic the new steel?

In the oil and gas industry in the Middle East, they have been working with Reinforced Thermoplastic Pipelines (also known as RTP or FCP) for more than twenty years. In fact, it's pretty much the norm there. But in the Netherlands we are still very focused on the steel version. We know and trust them. How logical is that? And will we continue to do so with the construction of a hydrogen pipeline network or will we finally switch to the 'non-metallic' variant?

Text: Kim de Booij

It may look like a simple PE pipe, but the plastic pipes we are talking about here are much more than that. “PE is used in the pipes as a liner and cover, and yes, this is the same material as the simple low-pressure pipes that are used for private homes, for example,” begins Robert-Jan Berg, managing director at SoluForce, producer of Reinforced Thermoplastic Pipelines.

“But with SoluForce's RTP (Reinforced Thermoplastic Industrial Piping System), PE is just the base. A permeation prevention layer and various reinforcement layers have been added that give the pipe an enormous pressure potential, up to 200 bar. So much more than what is needed in gas, oil and hydrogen transport. So what looks like a simple garden hose can withstand extreme conditions.”

Proven for 20 years

Where one may be amazed by the exceptional properties of this 'garden hose', Berg in turn is amazed by this. “We have been working with this product for over twenty years. Initially with the aim: corrosion-free pipelines for the oil and gas industry. Later also for other applications with higher pressures. But we currently deliver 98 percent of our pipeline systems outside Europe, simply because people in Europe are not used to using it in high-pressure situations.”

Fully tested

That will soon change, Berg predicts. “The emergence of hydrogen requires new pipelines, including pipelines from the hydrogen backbone to industry and filling stations. Our RTP pipes are the ideal solution for this and they are already ready to be used. Our product has been fully tested for hydrogen applications, in terms of pressure and material suitability. The permeation is minimal - close to zero - and there is no reaction at all between the hydrogen and our non-metallic material. This means that maintenance on the pipes is not necessary.”

Even more benefits

These are already two advantages compared to traditional alternatives. “And there are more,” adds Berg. “The production of our RTP pipes has a four times lower CO2 footprint. In addition, our pipes are flexible and particularly easy and quick to install. They are delivered on coils of 400 meters. You roll them out and therefore only have to make a connection every 400 meters. This reduces installation time and costs by a factor of six. The material itself is more expensive, but looking at the total cost of ownership (TCO), you end up at least 20 percent cheaper than with traditional pipes.”

NEN standards on the way

Yet unknown often remains unloved. “That is why we actively participate in pilots and projects in the Netherlands, often supported by European subsidies. For example, we have been working intensively with Groningen Seaports (GSP) for four years now. They want to realize a fully non-metallic hydrogen distribution network in Eemshaven (Djuwels project). Together with GSP, we have carried out all the necessary safety and design testing and a complete risk analysis that show that RTP pipes are at least as good and reliable as metallic variants. This has led to separate NEN standards for our product being developed at the request of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management. They should be finished this summer. At that point everyone can see that it is suitable for Hydrogen and see how to handle it.”


This could just mean a breakthrough of Reinforced Thermoplastic Pipes in the Netherlands. “Certainly, and beyond,” confirms Berg. “We are also working on similar projects in countries such as France, Austria and Germany. The buyers are already eager to work with it, there just needs to be a little more clarity in legislation and ownership. Take the connections to the backbone in the Netherlands. Who will own this? And what requirements does Gasunie possibly impose on these connections to and from the backbone? That must first become clear. In any case, we are ready to go!”

SoluForce & sustainability

SoluForce is part of Wienerberger AG, European market leader in pipe systems, and focuses in particular on sustainable developments. This involves more than hydrogen transport. The company is also looking at CO2 storage, biogas and other innovations that can contribute to the sustainable renewable energy of the future. SoluForce's motto is therefore: revolutionizing the way energy is transported.

Are we going to make the switch?

In the Middle East, the switch was already made at the beginning of this century. Oil and gas companies even have separate non-metallic focus programs. These customers claim that they save billions in maintenance thanks to Reinforced Plastic Pipes. When does the Netherlands follow?


More information about SoluForce Hydrogen pipeline solutions.

This article was published in edition 4, 2023 of Europoort Kringen

Robert-Jan Berg, Managing Director SoluForce
Robert-Jan Berg, Managing Director SoluForce
SoluForce Hydrogen Tight (H2T) pipeline system
SoluForce Hydrogen Tight (H2T) pipeline system
SoluForce Netherlands 4
SoluForce Flexible Composite Pipes

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