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Tool-Tech AS: Developing new solutions offshore

Transforming an idea into a commercial product can be a lengthy process. Funding from the French Norwegian Foundation (FNS) has played a vital role for Tool-Tech AS, a company that designs new instrumentation and equipment for the subsea industry.

“Our company’s activities have largely relied on our own resources for a long time. It has been possible for us to work this way as we can choose how to use our time. However, the need for capital becomes more urgent once we reach the point where we are verifying prototypes for new solutions. Access to public innovation funding agencies like the FNS has been crucial,” states General Manager of Tool-Tech, Magne Rød.

The company was founded in 1999 as a consultancy, but from 2005 activities have shifted more and more towards innovation and product development. Two subsidiary companies have been established targeted towards hydraulic solutions and electro-mechanical subsea actuators, respectively. As parent company, Tool-Tech continues to work for innovation and is currently involved in two research projects with funding from the FNS. 
Magne Rød Magne Rød and Tool-Tech are currently involved in two research projects with funding from the FNS. Facilitating salinity measurement
The “Salinity Scan with Prototype Development” project was launched in 2012 and continues a previous project carried out in cooperation with several international research partners. The project involves a patented multiphase flow metering system that makes it easier to measure salinity (salt content) in a well stream.

Knowledge about salt content is critical, as salinity can affect the reading of the gamma-density gauge in the multiphase flow meter mounted on the well equipment and result in incorrect values for the gas, oil and water ratio. Salinity values can diverge over time from the gauge’s original calibrations and older multiphase flow meters are not equipped to measure salinity at all.

“Our principle is based on the offline separation of a fluid sample. In order to optimise production from a well it is essential to know the quantity of each substance present. Measuring the salinity value of samples of the separated produced water makes it possible to calibrate the instruments so that they reflect the correct ratios. The separated phases are also measured with level instrumentation.

Salinity Scan testcontainer med utstyr Salinity Scan test container with equipment Eliminating vessel needs
The norm up to now has been to use subsea ROV`s (Remotely Operated Vehichles) to extract samples from a well stream and to send the samples to an onshore laboratory to monitor changes in salinity over time. But this process is both cumbersome and expensive.

“Our approach involves attaching an extra container to the flow-control module that is dedicated to the wellhead equipment assembly. This separation container contains instrumentation and a water separator. Flow-control modules are regularly replaced in connection with subsea choke valve maintenance, with the frequency varying from field to field.

“It is possible to install a newly overhauled module that contains a Salinity Scan system during choke valve replacement operations. Once this equipment is installed on the wellhead mounted equipment, also called the “Christmas tree”, subsea measurements can be made regularly without bringing samples up to the surface,” Mr Rød explains. 

Further testing
More work is needed before this method of analysis will be ready for actual use. At present, prototypes of this equipment are being tested in cooperation with the Norwegian company Hellenes AS, located in Sogn og Fjordane County.

“We have tried out a variety of techniques, and laboratory tests support the feasibility of this approach. But it is a long-term process, which is why it is so important to have access to financial resources and partners that enable us to keep on developing this gauge.”

Environmental-friendly electricity production
The other FNS-funded project at Tool-Tech was launched in 2013 and focuses on the development of a choke-turbine that generates electricity from the well stream flowing energy. Since most of the well stream energy currently goes to waste, this opens the door to several exciting new applications.

“Bringing this energy up to the surface, a large number of turbines could produce electricity on board platforms, providing some of the platform’s energy needs. A full-scale installation of 28 turbines can produce 4 MW, which is roughly 20–25 per cent of the electricity needed on board. This would reduce the need to burn gas in a gas turbine and decrease emissions of CO2 and NOX, so there could be major environmental benefits as well.

More instrumentation under water
The choke turbine can also be used under water. The turbine is the same but the generator solutions will be different. New technology and instruments for subsea wells to promote IOR (Increased Oil Recovery) and other improvements are constantly emerging, but there are obstacles for older installations in particular, as their seabed cables do not have the capacity to transmit enough electricity to power equipment such as instruments or electric actuators. 

“A smaller version of the choke turbine could be used to produce electricity to charge batteries on subsea installations. This would make it possible to install supplementary instrumentation on subsea wells – which the industry is actively seeking. Modern subsea monitoring systems have as much as three times more instrumentation than was used during the early subsea development on the Troll subsea field”, but the subsea electrical distribution cannot support such upgrades due to umbilical limitations for many older subsea fields.

“Our other project, Salinity Scan with Prototype Development, is a typical example of supplementary instrumentation that could be implemented using this type of solution, so in a way the two projects are connected,” Mr Rød points out.

The FNS helps to maintain continuity
The French company Euro Techniques Industries (ETI) is a partner in both projects and is involved among other things in the testing of solutions. The company was established in 2006 under the leadership of Eric Belviro and specialises in electric equipment for the offshore and subsea markets. The company’s core activity is in the area of electric systems integrated into pneumatic/hydraulic or mechanical systems.

“They were part of our original consortium and have been a very good partner for us. It was ETI that informed us of the possibility to obtain funding from the FNS. Increasingly advanced technology is being introduced to the subsea market and the support from the FNS has given us the continuity we needed to keep pace,” Mr Rød explains. Both grant applications were prepared by Nina Wahl from the innovation advisory agency Moltres. She has also served as a French-speaking liaison between the two companies and assisted ETI in its dealings with the innovation funding agencies in France.

An exciting concept
Laurent Saint-Michel, head of R&D in ETI, explains that the company has been very busy recently with several large commissions leading to substantial growth in all areas. The cooperation with Tool-Tech began some years ago when both companies were participants in another project.

“In this project, we will be supplying the electrical power generation and switchgear scope on the path leading up to the prototype and we will also be involved in the start-up, testing and verification phases. The most important objectives are to develop an exciting concept and to demonstrate to our customers that we have the expertise needed to deal with long-term, complex projects. It is also important that we develop a product that will enable us to enter into new markets as well as promote development in our company,” he concludes. 

Written by:
Nils Ragnar Løvhaug
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