Benefits of replacing concrete foundations with steel piles
The foundations of gas compression and process facilities have traditionally been made from concrete, but now local producers are switching to steel foundation systems to drastically reduce installation costs and save time during construction.
Mass concrete slabs and piers have generally been used to support compression and process skids, pipe racks, buildings, and balance of plant for gas process facilities. However, with the total installation cost of finished concrete rising to as high as $4,000 per cubic metre, plus the lengthy construction process, foundations now represent a significant percentage of the total build cost for any development.
In order to save time and money, Australian producers have been investigating construction techniques from other regions such as Western Canada and found that replacing concrete foundations with steel produces major benefits.
Steel foundation systems consist of structural steel piles, typically tube, which are driven into the ground. These are also engineered for the geotechnical conditions of the site and the configuration/loading of the structure. The piles are then cut off and the structure is mounted directly to the piles.
Australian CSG producers that have used this technique have seen a 50 per cent reduction in construction costs and have reduced the construction schedule of the foundation works by about the same. The use of steel piles is also being considered for other applications including the installation of HV lines, wind turbines and solar farms, which is common practice in North America.
These innovative construction techniques can be extremely beneficial to Australia’s gas industry as they have proven to significantly reduce construction costs. This technology is also arriving in an economic climate where every cent of project expenditures is under scrutiny, so its adaptation is timely.
Why switch to steel piles?
Recent Australian projects, including operations by Santos in Queensland’s Arcadia Valley, have switched to steel and experienced major benefits.
Foundation contractor DFI Energy Services (DFI) recently designed and installed a foundation system for Santos, including two compressors and balance of plant, in less than five days with a crew of only three people.
Having only been operating in Australia for six months, DFI has already completed one project, will soon begin work for a pipeline company, and has also won a contract to lay the foundations for a major CSG facility in early 2017. DFI is also continuing to work with dozens of producers, engineering houses and contractors to redesign their facilities for steel foundation systems.
Matt Meyer, Regional Manager Australasia at DFI, said that steel piles are replacing concrete foundations because of the major cost and time savings that this system offers energy companies.
“In the vast remote areas of Australia, where raw materials and water are not readily available it is very expensive and time consuming to set up concrete production. In addition to resource constraints, environmental factors can also make concrete construction a challenge, including reactive soils and disruptive weather cycles,” Mr Meyer said.
Mr Meyer said DFI builds foundations using steel piles to not only avoid issues with concrete, but because of the overall time, accessibility, transportation and storage benefits.
“There is also the added benefit of being able to remove steel piles at the end of a facility’s life cycle and reuse them, which you definitely can’t do with concrete,” Mr Meyer said.
Steel pile use in Australia
Wade Elofson, founder of Powered, an Australian energy and resource focused business development company who works with DFI and others in the energy industry, said innovative construction techniques like DFI’s piles are exactly what Australia’s gas industry currently needs.
“Oil and gas expenditures are lower than they were a few years ago, so finding methods like building foundations entirely out of steel is a great way to reduce production costs in Australian projects,” Mr Elofson said.
“You’re essentially using a piece of steel pipe which doesn’t require any fabrication or preparation before it’s installed.
“It’s a much more efficient process than anything else on the market and can save energy companies a significant amount of time and money.”