Technology plays a critical role in the oil and gas sector, and the pipeline industry is no exception. Maintaining the integrity of high pressure oil and gas pipeline requires the use of advanced technologies. A challenge that confronts every pipeline operator is the risk posed in the deployment of unproven technologies, especially those associated with the inspection, assessment, monitoring, and rehabilitation of their systems. Use of unproven technologies and concepts puts pipeline operators at risk.
The concept of Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs), commonly used in the aerospace and defense industries, provides the pipeline industry with a proven means for evaluating and assessing technologies used to enhance integrity management efforts. This paper presents details on technology readiness levels ranging from Proof of Concept to System Operation. The adoption and implementation of the TRL approach will minimize operator risk and foster the deployment of advanced technologies, thus enhancing the safe operation of high pressure pipelines. Three TRL-oriented case studies will be included evaluating the monitoring of pipelines using fiber optics, inspection using three-dimensional imaging, and reinforcement using optimized composite technologies.
ELEMENTS OF THE TRL FRAMEWORK
One of the goals of TRLs is to provide readers with a framework for determining where a particular technology is in terms of the overall TRL framework. In other words, is the technology still at TRL 2: Demonstration by Testing or is the technology further along this process and actually at TRL 4: Prototype Validation? Knowing how to distinguish between the different phases is important for the following reasons.
- It is easy for technology developers to believe they are farther along in the TRL process than they actually are. This is not a technical issue; rather, it is an emotional issue and requires that the technology developer divorce themselves from the design and development process to conduct an objective assessment of where they are in the process. Oftentimes, third party organizations with technology experts or potential technology users are ideally-suited to partner with innovators in going through this process.
- Knowing where a technology resides in the TRL process permits stakeholders including technology innovators, users (i.e., operators), regulators, service companies, and investors to better understand where they are and where they need to be. It does not benefit key stakeholders to believe a technology is further along in the TRL process than they really are. The TRL process provides a framework for knowing where to focus to ensure the technology development process advances appropriately, with the eventual goal of every technology to achieve TRL 7: System Operation.
- The TRLs allow interested parties, namely technology innovators, developers, users, and investors, to have a framework against which to measure the technology development stage. This ensures that the technology development process advances at a reasonable pace, ensuring internal accountability among team members regarding performance expectations and associated risks of achieving the desired TRL levels.