How tubes are used in automotive construction. Material used is type 304L.

Tubes and pipes: thriving, but for how long?

For Stainless Steel World India & Middle East, James Chater has reviewed markets where stainless steels are widely used or show good potential.
^ How tubes are used in automotive construction. Material used is type 304L.

Article by John Butterfield

Upstream oil & gas

Upstream oil & gas is still perceived as the number one market for high-end stainless steel suppliers. Umbilicals and other high end tubular products are still in high demand, as can be seen in recent orders placed with Sandvik, Vallourec, Tubacex and other companies for upstream projects around the world, but especially in the Middle East. In Abu Dhabi (UAE) the well environments are extremely corrosive, making CRA materials all the more necessary. Sandvik won a contract from Tenaris for OCTG pipes made in Sanicro® 28 (UNS N08028), a highly corrosion-resistant austenitic, for the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC). For these and other tubes and pipes made of CRAs Sandvik has used a coating called Dopeless® technology, permitting the first-ever run of CRA tubulars in stands of three pipes, providing greater robustness and minimizing gall risks. The technology was first used on 2507® super-duplex tubes in two deepwater wells off shore Angola. Sandvik also supplied to Aker the tubing used in ADNOC’s Ghasha ultra-sour gas field off shore the UAE, which will in time supply 20% of the UAE’s needs. Sandvik has also teamed up with a local company, Serck Services, to produce heat exchangers. Tenaris, which manages several projects in the Middle East, has also acquired a stake in a local producer, Saudi Steel Pipe (SSP).

"Desalination systems use the whole gamut of stainless-steel grades.

Several other companies are benefitting from the boom in upstream. Ukrainian tube and pipe company Centravis received approvals from the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation (EGPC) and Petronas; this Malaysian oil and gas fields will rely heavily on Centravis for instrumentation tubes, general tubes and pipes, as well as tubes produced of duplex, super-duplex and high alloy steel grades.

Duplex and super-duplex are indispensable in today’s oil and gas fields. The last year saw orders for duplex tubes and pipes from Butting, Sandvik, Stalatube, Vallourec and many others. For instance, for the Johan Sverdrup project, Equinor specified duplex stainless steel from Stalatube for 80% of the piping; the rest of piping used CRAs. Butting supplied both clad pipes and super-duplex pipes for the Duva & P1 project, an expansion of the Gjøa floating production unit.

Petrochemicals and refineries

Even if renewables take increasing market share away from fossil fuels, the petrochemical industry is an increasingly important market for the oil and gas industry. A major market is the Middle East itself, where the same companies that supply the oil and gas industry are also active in petrochemicals and power generation. For instance, Sandvik’s Mehsana production unit in India has received approval from the Kuwait National Petroleum Company (KNPC) for the supply of tubes, heat exchangers, stainless steel and alloy steel to its refineries.


Although the auto market has slowed down in the past year, more and more stainless-steel tube makers have been investing in it. Tube makers that have invested heavily in auto parts include Schoeller Werk, Mannesmann Stainless Tubes and Marcegaglia. Marcegaglia has developed specific knowhow in the sector of stainless-steel fl at products and welded pipes for exhaust systems and for hydroforming applications, as well as for bus frames and other structural applications in commercial vehicles.

Behind this drive towards stainless steel is the need to reduce pollution and CO2 emissions. Greater fuel efficiency requires hotter engines, therefore heat-resistant ferritics are increasingly being applied in exhaust systems. Stainless steel is becoming ever more necessary in applications such as exhaust systems (including exhaust gas recirculation, a technique for reducing NOx emissions) and catalytic converters, not only in cars but also motorcycles. Vehicles fuelled by compressed natural gas or LNG also require stainless steel tubes to resist high pressure and cryogenic conditions respectively. Using stainless, especially duplex grades, can result in lighter frames and chasses.

Renewables – the joker in the pack

“Green” energy, storage and electric vehicles (EVs) are disrupting the energy and transport markets. The transition from fossil to renewable is happening far faster than anyone predicted, mainly thanks to lower prices but also government intervention. No one knows how quickly the transition will occur, but it is only a matter of time. Industry, therefore, to faces a crucial question: is it not possible that the energy and transport infrastructure and products currently being rolled out – oil and gas resources, fossil and nuclear power stations, and the internal combustion engine (ICE) – will soon become surplus to requirements? Already the problems being experienced by US coal power companies and German utilities suggest that rapid advances in renewables could outflank more traditional energy sources sooner than we think.

This question has obvious repercussions for the stainless tube and pipe industry. Demand may soon shift away from umbilical tubes and other products for off shore and towards tubing used in concentrated solar power (CSP) facilities and tubes and pipes in geothermal power stations. (In this connection, Marcegaglia has just supplied 6000 tons of stainless tubes for the collectors of the Noor Energy 1 CSP park in Dubai.)

Similarly, the days of ICE vehicles are numbered, though here again the rate of change can only be guessed at. The newest ICE vehicles depend heavily on stainless steel tubing, especially as regards the exhaust system, but battery driven electric vehicles (EVs) have far fewer moving parts, are lower-maintenance and do not have an exhaust system.

Water: a safe bet

Whatever form our energy and transport needs will take in the future, our need for clean drinking water and wastewater management will not go away. The world’s growing population is colliding with melting glaciers and unpredictable weather patterns due to global warming to create a scenario in which, it is predicted, demand for water will exceed supply by 40% in the year 2025 (1). A recent market survey claims that the market for wastewater treatment services will grow by 6.1% annually between 2019 and 2024 (2). It is now recognised that stainless-steel pipes are indispensable for water purification, transport, collection, and wastewater treatment. They are less likely to leak because of corrosion and, unlike copper, iron or steel, can withstand velocities of up to 40 metres per second. Typical water systems will include type 304, or type 316 in higher chloride concentrations. Duplex 2205 provides greater tensile strength and can save weight and facilitate installation.

In hot and dry climates where drinking water is scarce, demand for desalination is growing, especially reverse osmosis (RO). Desalination systems use the whole gamut of stainless-steel grades, from austenitic to duplex and super-duplex, superaustenitic and titanium. In an uncertain, shifting global scene, the demand for water is a true constant.


1. The Nickel Institute, “The role of nickel in the water sector”, citing the World Bank.

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