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ISSUE 02 | 2019

Meet the next generation of energy resources innovators

It is my pleasure to welcome you to the second edition of NERA’s Creating Our New Energy Futures case study book. In commending this collection of stories to you, and the inspirational work of our innovation heroes in the pages that follow, I am also championing for us all to engage in deeper and more informed conversations about the one theme that unifies all of this work: energy. An understanding of the complex energy issues we in Australia and the world must address is critical to making informed decisions at household, community, industry and government levels, and this in turn will underpin a sustainable and prosperous future for all Australians. Informed conversations about energy should be had just as much around the dining room table as the boardroom table. Regardless of differing views on climate change or an Australian carbon price, the broad consensus is that industry must address carbon emissions. It is equally important to recognise the vital role the energy resources sector plays in our nation’s continued prosperity. The sector remains one of the principal sources of revenue, contributing more than $55 billion to the national economy, powering other vital industries such as mining, transport, agriculture and households, and employing more than 98,000 Australians. Furthermore, for every job in the oil and gas industry alone, ten times that number of jobs are supported throughout the supply chain and broader economy.


Despite Australia developing one of the strongest energy resources sectors in the world, today it is being challenged on the local and global stage like never before through increased international competition, geopolitics, shifting energy market conditions and accelerating technological change. To monetise more resources, compete globally and ensure ongoing sector investment, we need to develop deeper operational expertise aligned with technological capabilities, and find new and innovative ways to operate. Our energy resources companies must adapt to an emerging new global business model and generate innovative solutions to genuine industry challenges at scale and speed. But they cannot do it alone. This requires deeper engagement with the supply chain and a move to more performance-based contracts that include early and ongoing value creation and services. It also requires operators and miners to find effective and safe ways to reach beyond their existing supply chains to find, adapt and deploy those innovative solutions.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW? Join us as we check in with some of our Issue 01 heroes to see where they are at today.

As the only independent and industry-led research and knowledge organisation for Australia’s energy resources, NERA is uniquely positioned to support our sector navigate the global headwinds by creating vital opportunities for collaboration and innovation and the successful commercialisation of knowledge and technology.

Exmouth Integrated Artificial Reef (King Reef)

NERA has identified a huge prize of more than $10 billion of new value that can be unlocked for the Australian economy annually from our sector, with the potential to support more than 200,000 jobs across the economy.

Our Exmouth Integrated Artificial Reef project has been a major enabler in unlocking opportunities for project partner Subcon who, since installing King Reef in August 2018, has been awarded a contract to deliver four additional artificial reefs in the Northern Territory.

This huge value will only be realised through the sector seeking more opportunities to collaborate, and by developing our new technical and operational capabilities. Our Sector Competitiveness Plan provides the strategic roadmap to achieve this goal, but it is important to also shine a light on the people and stories behind these numbers – to go behind the statistics and connect with the researchers, innovators and operators who are collaborating to drive a smart, digital and export-focussed energy future for all Australians. These are our real energy heroes. NERA’s activities around the country to support and promote the work of these innovators reflect our sector’s ambitions to deliver clean energy resources to Australia and the world and helps us achieve our vision of Australia as a global energy powerhouse, a sought-after destination for investment and a leading source of knowledge and solutions. We look forward to continuing to work with industry partners, governments, research communities and businesses to deliver real solutions to the challenges our industry operators are facing today and those they will encounter tomorrow. If you would like more information about NERA’s national activities supporting Australia’s energy resources sector, please visit our website at

Miranda Taylor Chief Executive Officer

King Reef ecosystem is booming, with 50 different species of fish now calling it home. LNG Futures Facility Phase one of the LNG Futures Facility project – FEED (front-end engineering and design) – was completed in early December 2018, and the project has progressed to phase two. The first half of 2019 will see a detailed FEED undertaken to further define the plant, with the goal of producing an estimate for a final investment decision. In April 2019, the WA Premier, Mark McGowan, announced the State Government would provide $10 million to support the Future Energy Exports CRC, of which the LNG Futures Facility is a major component. Cyclone Tracking Reanalysis This project saw NERA join partners Woodside, Chevron Australia and Shell Australia to support the Bureau of Meteorology to undertake an objective reanalysis of tropical cyclones (TC) in Australia. Now complete, the project has provided a more comprehensive historic dataset that brings greater certainty in the engineering design of TC-related engineering structures. The report and data are freely available to the global community at

3D Printing for Remote Operating Environments

Solar Hybrid Power Generation

NERA continues to collaborate with SPEE3D, Charles Darwin University and ConocoPhillips to support the development of a new high-speed, low-cost metal 3D printing technology.

The Hybrid Wellsite Solar Battery Generator package for CSG wellsite power was successfully installed and commissioned at Origin’s Spring Gully field in March 2019.

The printer build is now complete, and a trial part will be printed and tested at ConocoPhillips Darwin LNG facility in the near future. SPEE3D continues to attract global interest for their technology, and recently sold a supersonic 3D deposition (SP3D) machine to FIT Additive Manufacturing Group in Germany.

Learnings from the project include reduced generator operating hours and maintenance costs of 40 to 50%; improved service life of generation equipment by 25 to 40% increase in

generator life; reduced system gas usage by 40 to 60%; increased field capacity; increase in wellsite power availability to near 100%; lower carbon and noise emissions; and improved flexibility with generator maintenance.



Jumping into the deep end How understanding the mechanics of hydrates can save industry hundreds of millions

page 08



page 14

Strength in numbers




test ‘game-changing’ ways to maximise subsea equipment performance page 20

page 30

World-first groundwater sensors to potentially save industry millions and deliver environmental best practice for the global energy sector


Australia’s leading subsea innovators are hunting in packs through the country’s first energy resources cluster

Living laboratories

XDR taps global markets with ground-breaking Power Rig



EX-rated robot turning dangerous work upside down page 36


page 40

From university R&D to reality How industry collaboration can help further unlock Australia’s resource base


page 26

A snapshot of our sector today

NERA’s vision is Australia as a global energy powerhouse, a sought-after destination for investment and the leading source of knowledge and solutions. NERA works with

160 PROJECT PARTNERS across the energy resources sector

NERA’s collaborative project fund has provided





Australia has developed one of the strongest energy resources industries in the world, built on world-leading innovation and creating and sustaining over 98,000 direct jobs

Australia’s energy resources sector contributed to Australia’s economy, with a gross value add of over $69.3 billion

$13.1 million

and is matched by

$20.3 million

of value to the Australian economy. NERA provides industrymatched funding to


in project investment


Australia is the world’s largest LNG exporter following an unparalleled investment boom


15 NERA’s collaborative projects are working with 15 Australian universtities and national research organisations across 7 states and territories

$19.4 billion More than $10.6 billion of all business income each year in Australia flows from collaborations with universities, and the estimated benefit to our national economy is $19.4 billion per year


$33.5 million


NERA is creating connections to innovate and transform the energy resources sector to unlock

$10 billion

from the energy resources sector for a total of

Every job in Australia’s oil and gas industry supports another 10 jobs in the economy

We are NERA. Building a brighter energy future.

How understanding the mechanics of hydrates can save industry hundreds of millions


Left to right: Dr Mauricio Di Lorenzo, Principal Research Engineer (CSIRO) with Dr Asheesh Kumar, Research Associate (UWA) and Prof. Zach Aman, Chevron Woodside Chair in Long Subsea Tiebacks (UWA).



Jumping into the deep end

Hydrates are natural occurrences – delicate ice-like structures whose lacey patterns are formed by gas and water. But when they accumulate and bond together in an unnatural environment such as in subsea pipelines, these tiny crystalline shapes cause colossal industry problems that can cost $1m per day to combat and up to $500m per asset to fully prevent. Hydrates are considered to be the primary flow assurance challenge faced by our oil and gas industry.

Hydrates – the ‘heart’ of the problem Hydrates start forming on a pipeline wall in the way plaque deposits form on a person’s arteries. When this occurs, the pipeline will convulse and the pressure required to pump fluid though the system will increase.

Plugging Annealing

Deposition Growth

Pipe Wall

Distance, Time


Gas Water Hydrate

For the University of Western Australia (UWA) Professor Zachary Aman and his team, hydrate formation is a fascinating phenomenon to be understood and solved. From their world-first hydrate test facility in Western Australia, the team are pursuing a solution with the potential to solve industry’s multi-million-dollar challenge and provide flow assurance knowledge that is both transferrable across industry and has the potential to benefit sectors beyond oil and gas.


What are hydrates? Hydrates are ice-like waterbased solids that form when liquid water contacts gases, such as methane or ethane, at high pressure. When this process happens at seafloor temperatures, the gas becomes encased in the hydrate’s icelike cage of water molecules. Without one of the four required ingredients – gas, water, high pressure, or low temperature – the hydrate will not form. Hydrates are a particular challenge in subsea jumpers, which are smaller pipelines used to transport fluids between wells and larger subsea infrastructure. “Jumpers connect the top of a wellhead, which stands beyond 20 feet tall, down to the seabed over distances as short as 50m or as long as 10km, before coming back up to connect to a manifold of similar height,” says Zach.

This unique geometry means that liquids can easily be trapped in the middle of the jumper, increasing the likelihood of forming a hydrate blockage. The transient flow patterns and severe operating conditions mean that fluids travelling through the pipes may not reach steady-state flow during start-up and shut-down operations. Hydrates are found naturally on Earth (predominantly in deep ocean seabeds and under deep lake sediments) and present a potential energy source for the world because of the natural gasses they hold. But when they’re formed outside of the natural environment, such as in subsea pipelines, and they start accumulating, restricting flow and creating a blockage (plugs), they are considered a major engineering challenge that costs time, resources and money.

The flow-on effects of hydrates Subsea pipelines are the arteries of an oil and gas system, and clear and healthy flow through these arteries is vital for subsea operations. If hydrates start forming on a pipeline wall the way plaque deposits on a person’s arteries, the pipeline is going to convulse and the pressure required to pump fluid though the system will increase. If unmanaged, this build-up can ultimately block the pipeline, causing the system to shut down. “If that flow channel becomes too obstructed, you won’t have enough energy to transit fluids across it in much the same way as a blocked artery, the pipeline has a heart attack of sorts,” Zach explains. “A similar process unfolds in pipelines … except the scale is 1,000 times larger.” For industry, “a hydrate blockage can result in months of lost production,” says Dr John Boxall, Subject Matter Expert for Hydrates in Chevron Australia. Preventing a lost opportunity (for a large-scale LNG facility) “can be in the millions of dollars per day, so predicting and preventing a hydrate blockage

event can be in the 10s to 100s of millions in savings”.

Jump-starting the HyJump Consortium

As a result, oil and gas operations currently work on the philosophy of complete hydrate avoidance, using conservative and expensive measures to prevent hydrates forming in the first place, controlling one or more of the four elements that make up a hydrate starter kit.

NERA joined The University of Western Australia, CSIRO and numerous industry operators as a project partner to form the HyJump Consortium, which aims to further our understanding of hydrates and accelerate a commercial solution to market.

“Typically for companies, hydrate management is some combination of either depressuring the line, which can be a huge cost and increase down-time, or antifreeze injection which, for a typical offshore system, can cost in the neighbourhood of $200 to $500 million, depending on the size of the system and the amount of antifreeze required,” Zach adds. “There are huge opportunities for cost reduction. If you can provide critical evidence that demonstrates ‘you don’t need an antifreeze system delivering 1,000 barrels a day, you only need 100’, then all of a sudden you’ve gone from a $500 million footprint to a $50 million footprint.”

HyJump is based in Perth and utilises the world’s first industrial-scale laboratory jumper facility to deliver the first high-pressure, pilot-scale insight into the mechanisms of hydrate blockage formation in subsea jumper systems. “We worked with the operators to say ‘since we don’t have an ability to assess the risk profile of jumpers right now, let’s build the world’s first pilotscale jumper that will allow us to study both the mechanics of how hydrate blockages are going to form and the timescale of this problem,” Zach explains. The HyJump flow loop simulates shut-down and start-up operations at different pressure and temperature conditions. “What we’re trying to do is to develop a

fundamental understanding that lets us predict minutes, days and hours in advance when these critical pipeline components might block,” says Zach. Through this, the project aims to offer a solution that economically balances the cost of intervening with the potential cost of a blockage. What sets this facility apart from others is its vertical jumper system that’s reflective of the vertical flow found in subsea jumpers – something not represented by most studies looking at inclined systems, in which the pipe is simply tilted by 10 degrees. “Once we started building the jumper, it took on a momentum of its own, generating significant interest from worldwide operators. We quickly realised that this is not going to be a small side-project; it’s going to be a fantastically involved group of experts who share our enthusiasm for solving this problem,” says Zach. Through NERA’s assistance, Zach and his research team are continuing to work towards a solution for the oil and gas industry.



Consortium members • NERA • The University of Western Australia • CSIRO • Woodside • Chevron Australia • Total • OneSubsea • ConocoPhillips • ExxonMobil

Locking in sustainable alternatives: how a change in solution might be the solution

Offshore field process Hydrates typically form in subsea jumpers, used to transport fluids between subsea components.



Australia has strict environment standards when it comes to ecotoxicity (the study of toxic effects caused by natural or unnatural substances) – standards that are protecting some of the most precious ecosystems in the world. Through NERA’s project funding and industry support, Zach and his research team have established a clear pathway to finding not only an economically viable solution for hydrate prevention, but an ecofriendly one.

Production jumper Flowline Umbilical

“Beyond understanding how and when hydrate blockages might occur, our ultimate goal is to eliminate the antifreeze systems that are currently used to inhibit hydrates,” Zach explains. “If the solution that you tailor-make is something safe enough to drink, as well as cheap to produce, then everyone wins.”

Miranda Taylor, NERA CEO

Leaving a legacy beyond hydrates

Researching the multi-milliondollar challenge of hydrates will have benefits not only for Australia, but for all international gas-condensate and crude oil developments where hydrates are an issue, allowing operators to reduce CAPEX associated with hydrate prevention.

Through NERA’s ongoing support, Zach and his team will continue to develop software that assists in the design and management of subsea systems – one that will be available worldwide for operators and designers as an add-on to standard design packages.

Furthermore, multi-phase flow plays an important role in numerous industries, from cosmetics to food production, which means that understanding more about the dynamics of multi-phase flow is not only impactful to oil and gas but also carries important academic insight across multiple disciplines. “NERA is proud to support projects like HyJump and to invest in research that fills vital knowledge gaps, helping to solve a costly and time-consuming problem not just for Australia, but for the world,” says Miranda Taylor, NERA CEO. “Through this collaboration and commitment to solving a major industry problem, Australia can reinforce its reputation as a leading destination for industry solutions and technological excellence. If this knowledge and these solutions can be applied to other industries or sectors, we create powerful multipliers that will live on long after the life of any single project.”

This software tool is designed to forecast blockages, eliminating the uncertainty currently associated with where and when hydrates form, and, through this, unlock deeper resources to support the next generation of asset development. “NERA is committed to advancing the research capabilities of Zach and his team to help them continue to work towards a solution for the oil and gas industry. It is vital that we as a country – with rich natural assets and great export potential – focus our efforts on improving and enhancing the ways in which we work, collaborate and grow,” says Miranda. “This project shows us the power of industry collaboration, particularly for the operators that hold hundreds of assets around the world. Innovation, collaboration and a strong focus on research – and turning this knowledge into a solution – are so important to Australia remaining globally competitive.”


The HyJump Consortium is comprised of research and industry partners who together support the HyJump project to develop an insight into hydrate blockage formation in subsea jumpers. This knowledge will help to enhance efficiencies, reduce OPEX and unlock deep-water oil and gas resources.

NERA is proud to support projects like HyJump and to invest in research that fills vital knowledge gaps, helping to solve a costly and time-consuming problem not just for Australia, but for the world.

Delivering cross-industry impacts that can go global

Strength in numbers Australia’s leading subsea innovators are hunting in packs through the country’s first energy resources cluster

In business, however, clustering hasn’t enjoyed the same natural evolution. Collaboration in the corporate world has long been commensurate to weakness, with siloed corporate strategies and cut-throat competition preaching a ‘zero-sum game’. This has meant businesses are more likely to define themselves in opposition to colleagues rather than as potential collaborators towards a shared goal. In a history of chasing commercial success and profit, the established wisdom has been simple: it’s better to go it alone. Not so slowly, however, the business benefits of clustering have started to be felt across global industries, and the generational barriers to corporate collaboration have begun to thaw. Over the last decade, innovation clusters and precincts have emerged as a legitimate corporate framework, helping driving innovation and regional development. The success of the model has resulted in the European Commission actively encouraging the development of world-class clusters. Companies in the Blue Maritime Cluster in Norway, for example, demonstrated spectacular growth from 2004 to 2014 with the total value added increasing at, on average, 13%

annually and reaching 23 billion NOK in 2014. As a result, more than 8000 new jobs were created in the cluster. Analysis of the Norwegian Cluster program by Menon Business Economics has further shown that participating enterprises have experienced strong growth in value creation and productivity compared to non-participating enterprises. In Australia, our subsea energy innovators are helping to lead this clustering charge and in Perth, some of the country’s brightest subsea minds have come together to collaborate, communicate and form the Subsea Innovation Cluster Australia (SICA). Backed by NERA and with important industry support, SICA is demonstrating the value of the cluster model by attracting operator interest and investment to Australian shores within the first 12 months of operation. With Australia’s Inspection, Maintenance and Repair (IMR) sector expected to grow to $4.6 billion by 2020, SICA is ideally positioned to capitalise on this growth, showing the rest of the industry what is possible when innovators come together.




Everywhere we look, we can see evidence of clusters appearing in nature, from swarms of bees building honeycomb to individually fragile coral colonies coming together to form beautiful, interconnected and resilient reef systems stretching hundreds of kilometres.



SICA members

Small- to medium-sized subsea technology companies








Large international service providers




Alliance partners



SICA member Geo Oceans demonstrate their ROV capabilities.

An important advantage that SICA membership represents to individual companies is the ability to connect directly with operators and overcome barriers to business networking that have existed in the past. SICA member BlueZone Group has already seen this potential. “During SICA’s very short existence, we have seen greater potential access to working with the major oil and gas companies than in our previous 46-year history,” says General Manager Mark Musarra.

Sharing experiences to tackle unique problems


SICA member BlueZone Group’s ST6 Subsea Trencher.

Operators in Australia face highly specific challenges unique to the region. It’s this environment, by virtue of its remote operations and ambient conditions, that demand adaption to overcome a raft of challenges which impact on the success or failure of business ventures. This drives operators and service companies to find novel ways to produce resources and service the industry using more efficient methods. These adaptions are happening naturally in our industry and the resulting technologies have strong international potential.

“One of the barriers this cluster is trying to overcome is for the SMEs, who are often not able to get their foot in the door,” explains Ray Farrier, SICA Cluster Manager.

Australian operators, service companies and research institutions are now becoming recognised for the resulting specialised technology, knowledge and skills on an international level. To leverage this, SICA is now bringing the subsea energy industry closer together to form a community of Australia’s IMR expertise and becoming a valuable go-to place for knowledge and global solutions in IMR.

Through the coming together of operators, researchers, large service companies and SMEs to solve IMR challenges, SICA provides a broad perspective and offers solutions for challenges large and small. For SMEs and tech companies, SICA creates an invaluable opportunity to forge connections that may otherwise be difficult to make.

“By providing a one-stop shop for Australia’s operators to tap into SME capabilities, we can harness and sell the services of our members as well as provide them with more platforms to get in front of operators.” For operators, who must continually explore opportunities to reduce costs and increase efficiencies, SICA provides a unique and rich knowledge base that enables enhanced solutions. “Just as you go to a food court for lunch, we strive for operators to come to SICA for IMR challenges,” explains Ray.

INPEX is one such operator and as proud SICA member, with Andy Higgins, INPEX Vice President, Technical seeing value in the collaborative approach the cluster brings to solving industry challenges. “Collaboration is one of INPEX’s core values and a key reason why we are proud to support the SICA initiative,” says Andy. “Operated by INPEX, the Ichthys LNG development provides a safe and reliable energy supply to Japan and other Asia Pacific countries and, with a planned 40 years of operations, we rely on internal and external expertise to solve complex technical challenges as they arise.” “The SICA collaborative initiative is already fostering innovative solutions to a range of subsea challenges and we believe this benefit will continue into the future and be a key part of building a sustainable oil and gas LNG centre of excellence for generations to come.” “We are also pleased that SICA fosters a cross-disciplined industry pathway for small and medium enterprises helping build sustainable local capability.” Through industry-SME-research collaboration, SICA is helping to address Australia’s subsea

NERA understands that businesses situated in strong clusters have a distinct advantage. The stronger the cluster, the more substantial the positive impact to an individual company. This is why we have supported the emergence of clusters within our sector – to harness this knowledge and work in unity to make Australia a strong contender on the world stage whilst generating skill development and work opportunities that benefit not just individual cluster participants, but the whole value chain. Miranda Taylor, NERA CEO

challenges and raise the profile of Australia’s subsea industry regionally and globally, promoting its specialised IMR knowledge and skills and strengthening its competitive advantages. Showcasing the Australian industry to the world will offer a significant benefit to the state and federal governments through increased employment and improved export earnings.


Medium international service providers

NERA is also fast-tracking the formation of a Virtual Ocean Energy Cluster that will strengthen collaboration, accelerate innovation and increase the current market of Australia’s marine energy sector. Ocean energy, primarily in the forms of wave and tidal, is an emerging technological field. It shares many common difficulties and opportunities with the established offshore energy industry.

Why ’cluster’ isn’t a dirty word Understanding what defines a business cluster usually starts with a shared place and time. In their simplest form, clusters are groups of similar or related firms in a defined geographic area that share common markets, technologies, work skill needs, and which are often linked by complementarity or a similarity of interests and needs.

SICA member BlueZone Group offers a range of quality subsea equipment and services.

During SICA’s very short existence, BlueZone Group has seen greater potential access to working with the major oil and gas companies than in our previous 46-year history.


Mark Musarra, General Manager at BlueZone Group

Offering size and scale through SICA SICA was established in February 2018 by Subsea Energy Australia (SEA), with the support of NERA, and continues to enjoy a growing membership base. “Within 12 months, we have seen our membership grow from our seed organisations to 38 members and affiliates,” says Ross Waring, SICA Chairman. During its first year, driven by its steering committee, SICA worked hard to establish a suitable governance framework. Ross explains that “just like a start-up, it has taken some time to build a reputation and put a robust framework in place.”

Cluster members regularly meet to discuss industry challenges.

“Towards the end of 2018, we were fortunate to have one of WA’s largest operators sign up and approach SICA with its first challenge, asking for the members to find a solution.” This is exactly what the cluster is about – tapping into the knowledge of innovative SMEs and tech companies to provide industry, and in turn Australia,

with the solutions to ensure that Australia is a leading source of knowledge and a competitive contender on the world stage. “SICA is about the membership. It drives what we do and how we do it. We’re set up to not only promote WA or Australian business in the sector, but also provide support to the operators who are here but looking to expand into other markets and export Australian expertise,” explains Ross.

While individual enterprises can form clusters in a variety of ways, the benefits are clear. Cluster members can gain easier access to important production factors and ideas for innovation through interaction and cooperation. By aggregating their expertise, technologies, specialised resources, capital and knowledge, cluster participants can share advantages over and above those presented to sole operators including new partnerships, collaboration and fast exchange of knowledge, which fosters innovation and new ways of doing business.

“By finding local solutions to local problems, we have the opportunity to put Australia on the map as the world leader for IMR technology, providing solutions that can be commercialised and exported globally.”

Though the concept is not revolutionary (the Silicon Valley tech cluster is now approaching 30 years of development), it is evolutionary, with clusters possessing many advantages that make them an ideal model to respond to contemporary business challenges.

Today, SICA’s members represent some of the largest oil and gas operators in the world, leading research institutes and a selection of industry-leading advanced subsea technology and services vendors.

With today’s economy increasingly concerned with speed to market, price flexibility and global connectivity, business clusters provide a framework to meet these demands, benefiting their members and attracting investment. And with access to

The ocean energy industry faces the same challenges of designing and deploying their equipment into the hostile marine environment, where it must operate reliably despite challenges such as marine growth and corrosion. The cluster will collaborate with other NERA initiatives including SICA and the TASER Living Lab to share learnings and opportunities.

global markets continuing to present a major challenge to Australian companies, clusters present a huge opportunity to compete at scale and on the world stage. For the energy resources sector and its inherently high barriers to commercialising innovation and new technology, the opportunities through clustering are also clear. The cluster business model provides the perfect framework for industry to approach the service provider, small tech business and the research community in a collaborative space. This will likely lead to better commercialisation outcomes. Innovation- and industry-focussed clusters have the potential to fuel improved commercial outcomes from industry–SME–research sector collaboration, create new business opportunities, foster strong technology and entrepreneurial SMEs. NERA CEO Miranda Taylor believes that clusters drive a shared economic vision through innovation, collaboration and competition and provide a vehicle for SMEs, start-ups and innovators to build resilience and capacity to compete in national and global markets. Seizing the opportunity to collaborate with energy innovators, in 2018 NERA supported the development and industry launch of SICA with a stated vision to become the Asia Pacific’s centre of expertise in subsea technology and services, bringing together companies across the whole value chain.

Ray Farrier tours SICA member IAS Group’s facilities.

The SICA collaborative initiative is already fostering innovative solutions to a range of subsea challenges and we believe this benefit will continue into the future and be a key part of building a sustainable oil and gas LNG centre of excellence for generations to come. Andy Higgins, INPEX Vice President

What’s next for SICA NERA is collaborating to ensure that Australia’s cluster landscape grows and continues to harness the very best of what Australia has to offer. SICA will continue to foster collaboration, knowledge and resource sharing, efficiency development, technology commercialisation, innovation and technology development for resource and exploitation in remote and challenging subsea environments. The cluster will continue to provide academia with additional insights into the regional challenges faced by the industry

and the opportunity to work with industry suppliers and service companies to develop innovative and practical solutions leading to value generation with high impact in the oil and gas industry. While the initial focus of SICA is the subsea IMR sector, it is expected to expand its focus to other subsea sectors as the diversity of its membership grows, with the eventual inclusion of marine, defence, subsea mining, offshore renewables, aquaculture industries – industries where the Australian industry displays unique capabilities and competence.


Australian Ocean Energy Cluster

Four ‘living laboratories’ have been designed to help Australia’s oil & gas industry tackle the sector-wide costs incurred from operating in Australia’s challenging warm water environment.


Problems stem from the conditions of the water we operate in here. We have a very harsh environment – one that is extremely onerous for subsea equipment. TASER will generate significant cost savings by improving subsea equipment reliability and design for Australian operations. Adriana Botto, Principal Engineer – Subsea Integrity at Wood and one of TASER’s chief project leads



Living laboratories test ‘game-changing’ ways to maximise subsea equipment performance


Created by some of Australia’s leading subsea researchers, operators and equipment engineers, these state-of-the-art facilities are busy testing dozens of innovative products and subsea coating technologies designed to help our energy resources sector tackle the multi-million-dollar challenge of equipment performance and reliability.

TASER’s living labs are covered with unique pieces of technology.

Together they form part of the collaborative project codenamed TASER – Transforming Australia Subsea Equipment Reliability – which has seen the four living laboratories designed, built, then sunk into the warm waters off north-west Australia. The ‘living’ aspect of their design means they’ll operate and transmit data and results from the same realworld conditions as the products and materials they support.


The four structures, each bright yellow and around the size of a Volkswagen Beetle, have been specifically designed to help Australia’s oil and gas industry tackle the costs associated with equipment reliability issues associated with operating in Australia. The size of the prize is massive, with industry forced to invest millions of dollars each year to inspect, repair or replace subsea equipment. It is estimated that reducing interventions and vessel costs alone have the potential to provide industry savings of up to $165 million per year across Australia. When costs to industry from loss of production and the related effects on global competitiveness are factored in, the impact of equipment reliability issues could escalate to hundreds of millions.

And with Australia’s offshore energy resources sector currently transitioning from an unprecedented construction phase to ongoing operation, it has never been more important for industry to optimise the productivity and performance of its multibillion-dollar assets. Against this, ongoing reliability issues represent huge impediments to global competitiveness and opportunities to assist the industry to combat these issues has the potential to not only support the local innovation supply chain, it can help ensure Australia remains a global energy powerhouse. Australian solutions for Australian challenges What makes the TASER project so different and potentially so valuable to our energy resources sector is its ability to tackle the unique challenges of operating in Australian waters. The oceanic conditions off our continent’s northern coastline are warmer, shallower and more nutrient-rich when compared to oil and gas centres located in the North Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, which are deeper and much colder. More oxygen and more warmth in Australian waters mean marine growth and the formation of calcareous deposits (which form through precipitation of calcium carbonate from the seawater) occur at much faster rates – both of which are detrimental to subsea equipment.

potential savings per year across Australia by reducing interventions and vessel costs


Test structures are deployed in Australia waters

The issue is two-fold: the combination of marine growth and calcareous deposits lead to premature equipment reliability issues (especially for equipment with narrow moving interfaces that are exposed to seawater). Another challenge is the cementation of equipment caused by calcification deposits. When this occurs, acid cleaning is required to breakdown calcification, but it is an expensive and time consuming exercise. Compounding this problem for Australian operators is the fact that the vast majority of subsea equipment and offshore technology used in our oceans has been designed to operate in colder, deeper oceans. While the consequences of using equipment not qualified to operate in Australian waters might not be immediately apparent, the implications to equipment performance quickly manifest themselves. “Most of the technologies that support our offshore energy industry actually come from Northern Hemisphere countries

like Norway and the United Kingdom,” says Adriana Botto, Principal Engineer – Subsea Integrity at Wood and one of TASER’s chief project leads. “Problems stem from the conditions of the water we operate in here. We have a very harsh environment – one that is extremely onerous for subsea equipment, leading to premature equipment reliability issues.” “The amount of marine growth expected to take years to occur in the North Sea or the Gulf of Mexico is achieved within months of deployment in some Australian locations. Coatings used elsewhere (e.g. in the cold North Sea environment where subsea technology is pioneered) are used but perform inadequately, reducing design life and increasing equipment reliability issues.” Moreover, costs to operators aren’t just in the repair and replacement of materials; they also compound when equipment must be accessed and inspected. It is estimated that each time an oil and gas operator is forced

to retrieve one of its control modules, it costs up to $1 million – more than the value of the equipment itself. The same process to access and retrieve a faulty electronic module may be as high as $2.5 million per unit. And there could be dozens and dozens of modules supporting one single platform. An industry survey conducted by Wood in 2015 underlined just how significant the issue of subsea equipment reliability is, with five fields in Australia experiencing more than 100 premature equipment performance issues over a sixyear operating period. As Adriana explains, it was the opportunity to improve the reliability of critical equipment for operators that first gave rise to the concept of TASER and the need to better understand how equipment – particularly those most susceptible to biofouling challenges, such as subsea control module, choke modules, electrical flying leads – perform in Australian waters.

Through TASER there came the opportunity for industry to come together. From the equipment manufacturers who make the products to the operators who depended on them, the wider industry is collaborating to better understand how subsea equipment performs and to design better options for the future.


While this might not sound out of the ordinary for Australia’s industry research community, these new laboratories differentiate themselves in a unique way: they’re all located hundreds of metres underwater.


The TASER project is distinguished by its unique ability to deploy living laboratories to be exposed to the identical marine conditions as offshore structures – something that sets it apart from any other industry effort to tackle equipment reliability and performance problems. To date, there has not been a comprehensive research exercise to test anti-fouling coatings and equipment in Australian waters. Multiple vendors are loaning valuable real estate on these structures, with all four TASER structures each equipped with 183 unique pieces of technology, equipment and coating materials to assess their effectiveness against calcareous deposition and marine organism growth on subsea equipment.


Over a three-year period, each vendor’s products will be tested against real-world conditions, with yearly monitoring and results validated by project partner The University of Western Australia.

TASER’s structures are covered with anti-fouling technologies.

Miranda Taylor, NERA CEO

NERA CEO Miranda Taylor says concepts like living laboratories present unparalleled advantages for Australia’s energy resources sector, as they allow for the faster and safer testing, adaption and adoption of new technologies operating in complex environments. This not only assists industry optimise the performance of critical infrastructure, but also provides crucial real-time feedback for equipment and service providers. “NERA is a proud partner of the TASER project. We see the power and potential that can come from bringing operators and vendors together to share, collaborate and address industry challenges that affect our entire sector,” says Miranda. “Operators are increasingly challenged to maximise efficiencies and reduce operating costs from asset management. In this environment, the TASER project provides an opportunity for all participants to address problems that are unique to Australian conditions but common across various operators.” “In every sense, this is a gamechanging opportunity to promote the benefits of strong industry collaboration between subsea operators, vendors and Australian research institutions, which push us towards new solutions for the sector’s reliability challenges.”

Tackling the huge costs of equipment reliability together By focussing on knowledge sharing to improve subsea equipment design, TASER has the potential to offer significant cost savings to operators by maximising equipment reliability and performance, to boost production uptime. Manish Tomar, Subsea Operations Engineer at Chevron Australia explains that should just one of the samples work, it will have a dramatic effect on the whole industry. “This project has the potential to change the face of the energy resources industry in Australia,” says Mr Tomar. “This is a great opportunity for Chevron to be involved in because it’s the first time that all industry players have unified together, including operators, vendors and international contractors, to work on this unique challenge at such a big scale.” “We’ve got billions of dollars’ worth of assets with all these mega LNG projects that have been commissioned … it’s our duty as capital stewards to ensure these facilities run at maximum efficiency, and it is great to see Australia leading the collaborative efforts in oil and gas worldwide,” explains Mr Tomar. “This project is important for telling the rest of the world that we as an industry are open to collaboration, open to sharing ideas and prepared to work as a unified industry to face these challenges and come up with a solution. It’s great to see Australia leading the collaborative efforts in oil and gas worldwide.”

Reducing interventions and vessel costs (six months vessel time at approximately $200,000/day = $36 million across Australia)

Reducing the need to refurbish or purchase new equipment (estimated $20 million per year is spent in spares)

Maximising equipment reliability and availability and subsequent production uptime (six months of deferred production = $50 million)

This project has the potential to change the face of the energy resources industry in Australia. Manish Tomar, Subsea Operations Engineer at Chevron Australia

A legacy to benefit other subsea industries The learnings from TASER are expected to benefit not just the offshore energy industry, but also the wider subsea industry, including the potential development of an offshore renewable industry. “In three years’ time, we intend to issue an industry best-practice document based on the study so that in the future when new operators in the region are looking for new designs or ways to optimise the performance of their equipment, that information will be there to guide them forward,” explains Adriana.

That industry best-practice document has the potential to change the future of our industry and generate spin-off opportunities to connected subsea industries such as subsea terminals who face similar challenges. This dedication to knowledge sharing for the benefit of the wider subsea community highlights the truly collaborative nature of this project, demonstrating the power of collaboration and the knowledge that can be gained from a unified approach to finding solutions to a common problem.


The importance of testing in real-world conditions

NERA is a proud partner of the TASER project. We see the power and potential that can come from bringing operators and vendors together to share, collaborate and address industry challenges that affect our entire sector.

The TASER project will address the challenges and costs associated with equipment reliability. By reducing interventions and vessel costs, there is a potential to provide savings of up to $165 million per year across Australia by:

We’ve gone through a very rapid expansion phase over the last four years into the oil and gas industry. We saw things kicking off here in Queensland. Very early on we noticed these large rigs from overseas on Queensland roads – oversized, cumbersome, expensive and with big crews. Using our knowledge of putting trucks into the minerals industry, we took that technology across to oil and gas.

The Gastech experience is helping XDR to get closer to their goal.

XDR taps global markets with groundbreaking Power Rig As a member of NERA’s cohort at Gastech 2018, Exploration Drill Rigs Pty Ltd (XDR) is a perfect example of the powerful multiplier effects that can be generated when energy technology operators are plugged into global supply chains.

XDR’s workover rig: ultra-modern, incredibly fast, agile and powerful with a stylistically demanding design.

Despite Australia being a significant player in the global oil and gas industry, for SMEs and innovators in the national energy supply chain, finding a voice on the world stage is extremely difficult, with opportunities into global markets scarce. When SMEs are afforded these new opportunities, stakeholder research has shown they’re not always well-prepared for international business engagement. These challenges were typified by the fact that Australia never had a coordinated presence at Gastech – one of the world’s largest oil and gas events – in the 45-year history of the global conference.




Ross Hutton, XDR CEO

NERA tours XDR’s workshop.

In the lead up to the event, 10 innovative Australian SMEs representing a diverse spectrum of energy services and products were selected to take part in a unique mentoring program facilitated by NERA. The program provided each company with customised advice to identify in-market opportunities; scope relevant commercial and financial strategies; and acquire the skills, language and tools to create tangible export outcomes at Gastech.

Breaking through the decadesold ceiling The journey from Brisbane to Barcelona may be around 17,000km but, for XDR, travelling to Gastech proved an important milestone to showcase their next-generation technology that is helping to drive efficiencies across the onshore oil and gas industry.


Representing XDR was Executive Director Michael Ilett, who says NERA’s Team Australia program provided vital assistance to Australian companies before and during the conference, helping his business leverage their rig technology into new markets overseas.

As a member of NERA’s cohort at Gastech 2018, Exploration Drill Rigs Pty Ltd (XDR) is a perfect example of the powerful multiplier effects that can be generated when energy technology operators are plugged into global supply chains. For the Queensland-based workover rig specialist, the trip proved incredibly valuable, assisting the company overcome barriers to external markets and helping set up an exciting growth trajectory into global supply chains for their innovative rig technology.

“As a new player in the industry, XDR found it difficult in the past to break into the market dominated by large multinational legacy manufacturers. By being part of NERA’s innovation network and being present at the Australian Pavilion they provided at Gastech, it gave us the opportunity to overcome these barriers to entry and present our technologies in front of key technology decision makers within the oil and gas industry,” says Michael. XDR Business Development Manager Andrew Heseltine explains that one of XDR’s greatest challenges was breaking into an industry that over the past few decades has seen very little innovation in solutions for onshore well servicing and workover. “We spent two or three years trying to break through the ceiling. Because our solution is very innovative, a lot of people in the industry – which is a very old industry – like to use equipment that’s 40 to 50 years old in design. They will continue to buy new ‘old’ technology.”

The XDR workover rig operates in gauge on a standard 8x4 truck not requiring permits for transport. Its patented tubular mast replaces the traditional lattice mast and, due to its symmetrical design, it is able to operate without guy ropes and to act as a crane to pick up the blowout preventer from the cradle and lower it down on the wellhead. Michael Ilett, XDR Executive Director

“Selling a product – particularly a new and innovative product – in the oil and gas industry is definitely not business to business; it’s person to person. It’s relationships, people who believe in you, believe in your product, that help you to move forward,” says Andrew.

Supporting local innovations on the world stage

“As a small company, it’s extremely important for us to collaborate with other SMEs to gain traction in the international marketplace. So, our journey to Gastech as part of Team Australia was an excellent opportunity for us to have this launchpad and the Australian Government behind us to get out there and promote ourselves,” says Andrew.

NERA CEO Miranda Taylor says there can be enormous flow-on benefits from assisting Australian SMEs to open doors by making introductions and providing local entrepreneurs and innovative companies with the tools they need to turbo-charge their international growth prospects.

“Our Gastech experience helped us get closer to our goal: to be a major player in the onshore oil and gas industry in workover rigs, in the world.”

Building relationships is key to the XDR business model.

NERA’s journey to Gastech 2018 was an example of the global technology pathway programs being built to ‘take local global’ and showcase Australia’s capability across the global energy supply chain.

“At our core, NERA believes in Australian small businesses. With our continued support and vision for Australia’s energy resources sector, together we’re enabling a future of increased possibilities and opportunities for growth,” says Miranda. “We know that encouraging and promoting Australia’s best small businesses and entrepreneurs will bring significant benefits for the nation. For every single job created in Australia’s oil and gas industry, 10 more are supported across the economy. So when energy grows, Australia thrives.”

We’re very fortunate that people like NERA have taken a shine to us, to give us that support ... not just the financial support, but also opening the doors for us and bringing in people who we normally wouldn’t have access to. NERA took us to Barcelona last year, which was fantastic, and it certainly opened a lot of doors for us. Andrew Heseltine, XDR Business Development Manager


That changed in 2018 when NERA facilitated the first-ever country pavilion at Gastech, bringing Australia’s top energy innovators together to deliver a national showcase of Australian innovation, talent and future capability to the world.

Project partners will test SENSEI TM at the Four Mile Mine located at the base of the Flinders Ranges in South Australia.

World-first groundwater sensors to potentially save industry millions and deliver environmental best practice for the global energy sector

Quite simply we see this as an opportunity to create a true stepchange in groundwater monitoring, to reduce our costs and increase productivity while improving environmental outcomes. Kathryn Levingstone, HSSE, Regulatory and Compliance Superintendent, Heathgate Resources


Australian research and Australian manufacturing

12 Month trial

at the Four Mile Uranium In-Situ Recovery (ISR) Mine in South Australia



SENSEITM sensors

The Four Mile Uranium In-Situ Recovery Mine provides the perfect test site for the sensors.

NERA’s guidance and understanding the importance of technology and their commitment to seeing Australian technology commercialised in Australia has been very important to the project. Dr Kathie McGregor, SENSEITM Cluster Leader

Almost 110 years after Ms Mackellar’s words first spoke of an often remote and unforgiving landscape, Australian energy technology pioneers are using those same extremes to test cutting-edge sensors as part of a world-first groundwater monitoring trial. Utilising SENSEI™ sensors developed by CSIRO, the trial will see 26 sensors placed at the heart of an industry-leading, fully automated, real-time monitoring and reporting system to operate, for the first time, in remote and extreme conditions.

Project partners including NERA, Heathgate Resources, CSIRO and Boss Resources have chosen the Four Mile Uranium In-Situ Recovery (ISR) Mine operated by Heathgate Resources – a hot and desolate yet flood-prone region of South Australia – as a fitting location to test the sensors. Choosing an environment shaped by extreme weather conditions will test the limits of the technology and give industry stakeholders the confidence of knowing they’ll stand up. Because, like many of Australia’s most enduring innovations, these sensors are designed to thrive even in the harshest and most remote environments. If successful, this pilot project has the potential to usher in a new standard of environmental best practice, significantly improve the efficiencies of remote operations for Australia’s energy resources sector, and could be rolled out across more than 100 in-situ recovery sites worldwide.

Introducing SENSEITM The idea for the innovative solid-state sensor solution was sparked in 2007, when CSIRO’s Dr Miao Chen was investigating acid leaching and the parameters that control mineral extraction. An internal funding application for a postdoctoral fellow followed, Dr Mikko Vepsäläinen joined CSIRO, and SENSEI™ was born. Fast-forward to now, CSIRO SENSEI™ team sits at 20 members, and CSIRO are undertaking the first in field trial of the SENSEI™ sensor architecture to investigate its application for groundwater monitoring. SENSEI™ Cluster Leader, Dr Kathie McGregor, explains that the novel solid-state sensors are designed and manufactured at two of CSIRO’s laboratories in Victoria and New South Wales.

“What makes this project really exciting to be involved in is that it is Australian research and Australian manufacturing combining to tackle a national challenge.” In addition, CSIRO has partnered with a Brisbanebased SME, Intellidesign Pty Ltd, to assist in designing and manufacturing the prototype for the in-well application, complete with an acidresistant casing. Across Australia, advancements in sensor technology are changing the way the energy resources sector operates. Sensors are being utilised in more and more applications, from optimising gas extraction through the monitoring of key parameters to improving the health and safety of workers by providing immediate feedback on the way they perform manual handling tasks.

Using cutting-edge tech to solve an age-old industry problem Conventional underground or open-cut mining involves extracting ore from the ground and processing it to retrieve the desired mineral. ISR is a different type of process that uses groundwater sourced from the aquifer/rock formation that hosts the orebody as the extracting process. The groundwater is conditioned with leaching agents (commonly referred to as lixiviant) and re-circulated through rock formation hosting the orebody to leach the target mineral. The process has many advantages as there is little disturbance to the surface and no waste rock generated. However, due to the groundwater circulation process, ISR requires accurate and regular monitoring of the environment and groundwater that surround the mining area to monitor any lateral, horizontal and vertical migration of the lixiviant.

Conducting regular groundwater monitoring is extremely important for operators, however, the conventional monitoring process is a costly and labour-intensive activity that relies on manually inspecting hundreds of individual monitor wells, with results typically delayed. This is a challenge for real-time reactiveness. Heathgate Resources, who have operated in South Australia for the past 18 years, are one of many energy resources operators who have seen the costs associated with their groundwater monitoring obligations increase substantially as their operations expanded, yet with few technological advancements available to increase efficiency or provide rapid or real time results. This has driven the company, and HSSE, Regulatory and Compliance Superintendent Kathryn Levingstone, to look for better ways to not only improve environmental outcomes from more accurate real-time

monitoring, but to develop a less labour-intensive monitoring option. “The current technical monitoring regime involves monitoring 300 groundwater wells per month, which requires two fulltime technicians, specialised equipment and laboratory analysis with an ongoing annual cost of approximately $400,000,” Kathryn says. But the problem is not just related to cost. There can be a significant lag time between sampling and receiving results, and results can take between two and six weeks. “This can be further compounded by weather events and when it rains, Australia’s desert regions can flood, further delaying the monitoring process. We also find that the existing sensors don’t survive long in these challenging conditions and require constant calibration and maintenance to generate accurate results.” The opportunity to collaborate with NERA and CSIRO through

their new SENSEI™ solution grew from this industry challenge and a project partnership was quickly formed to demonstrate, in real-world conditions, how the new sensors could adapt to Heathgate’s requirements. For Heathgate, a key component of the project has been about bringing key regulators on a journey to demonstrate that SENSEI™ can deliver improved environmental outcomes and greater confidence of their impact area, which will allow them to protect sensitive receptors, while also recovering more uranium from their resources. “Quite simply we see this as an opportunity to create a true step-change in groundwater monitoring, to reduce our costs and increase productivity while improving environmental outcomes,” Kathryn explains.



When Australian poet Dorothea Mackellar wrote of a love for a sunburnt country in her classic My Country – a 1909 ode to her beloved nation – it wasn’t gentle green pastures and rolling hills that captured her imagination. Instead it was ragged mountain ranges, droughts and flooding rains that she adored. The “beauty and terror” of Australia’s weather and terrain, as she called it, made it all the more special.


What makes the SENSEI™ system so appealing for Heathgate’s operations is the prospect of deploying a low-maintenance sensor that is stable in low pH conditions and that doesn’t require constant manual calibration. CSIRO’s probes will automatically log and transmit real-time data from each well to the Cloud for a range of parameters, including electrical conductivity (EC), pH and water-levels. The Cloud-based data management system enables graphical visualisation of real-time monitoring data and generation of alerts and highlights when increasing or decreasing groundwater chemistry trends. The joint NERA–Heathgate–CSIRO–Boss Resources trial will deploy sensor clusters alongside the current regulatory low flow manual sampling system for a 12-month period to evaluate the performance and suitability of this system for use in ISR operations within South Australia, and worldwide. Dr Mikko Vepsäläinen, Senior Research Scientist, holds the SENSEI™ environmental monitoring prototype.

NERA’s involvement has helped us connect with resources companies and other industries to trial SENSEITM. Daniella Caruso, CSIRO Project Leader

Field trials are an essential element on the commercialisation pathway. Without them, CSIRO could not take the early commercialisation risk, as the technology often needs refining in order to make it workable at scale and in industry setting. Trials provide researchers with the ability to modify and adapt their product and offer more benefits to the customer. “Field trials are essential for testing and refining our technology so it’s ready for market,” explains Daniella Caruso, Project Manager from CSIRO. “SENSEI™ is a flexible product; it can be customised to the customer’s needs. The field trials really allow us to do this.” NERA’s support has enabled CSIRO to test their technology in a real-life application For CSIRO, demonstrating one or two readily accessible applications of SENSEI™ through field trials will help build traction with customers. Kathie explains that NERA’s involvement and cosponsoring of the demonstration trial has allowed CSIRO to engage with Heathgate Resources, manufacture the first prototypes in Australia and undertake the first field trial for environmental monitoring of groundwater locally. NERA is assisting CSIRO to gain invaluable experience in implementing the SENSEI™ technology at scale, and to build the business case for further investment. “NERA’s involvement has been instrumental in facilitating the partnership with Heathgate and CSIRO. NERA’s guidance and understanding the importance of technology and their commitment to seeing Australian technology commercialised in Australia has been very important to us,” explains Kathie. This sentiment is echoed by Kathryn, who explains that “engagement with NERA provides a great opportunity to collaborate with other industry partners”.


Leveraging learnings to benefit other industries During the next 12 months, project partners will continue to demonstrate the benefits of SENSEI™ alongside the current monitoring network and discuss the results with the regulators. Once there is confidence in the results, Heathgate will aim to transition to the automated process. As no mining operation currently has an approved fully automated groundwater monitoring program, this will set a new standard for compliance groundwater monitoring across Australia and pave the way for other operations to adopt the technology and approach. What’s next for SENSEI™ and CSIRO The groundwater application is just part of a larger SENSEI™ development program. Daniella explains that “environmental monitoring was originally thought to be a secondary application but turned out to be the primary one”.

Once the technology has been approved and commercialised in this application then the development will ramp up. While at this stage CSIRO are focussing on the groundwater application, other potential applications are numerous, including the use in leaching operations to provide realtime monitoring for process optimisation. With approximately 350 copper mines worldwide that are utilising heaps or tank leach then the value of commercialising SENSEI™ in this application is significant for CSIRO and Australia. CSIRO are seeking engagement with companies interested in field trials in environmental and leaching applications, and also sensor equipment manufacturers who could take SENSEI™ to market.


The project will test 26 SENSEI™ sensor installations in both lateral and overlying monitor wells that monitor the Four Mile West ISR wellfield.

EX-rated robot turning dangerous work upside down

It is estimated that between

Whether it’s operating at heights, deep underground or in the presence of toxic chemicals, energy resources worksites can present serious occupational health and safety risks. Across all these activities, one task stands above the rest in posing the biggest risk of death or injury. It’s known as confined space entry.

$900 Billion &

$1.6 Trillion

in savings can be unlocked by technology-driven changes by 2025.




Magneto can go further than human inspection ever could.

Working in confined spaces is estimated to be 100 to 150 times more hazardous than operating on an open site. By their nature, confined spaces are not designed for people to work in. They often have poor ventilation, which allows hazardous atmospheres to quickly develop, especially if the space is small. Moreover, hazards are not always obvious and may change from one entry point to the next. Compounding the clear risks to human life, confined space and hazardous area inspections pose significant operational impediments, often requiring operators to shut down assets to allow personnel to carry out the work – a necessity that regularly incurs considerable cost through production downtime.

Through our partnerships we’re accessing state-of-the-art research facilities and development platforms, which has a fundamental impact on helping close the gap to commercialise the technologies. Making waves with Magneto The pathway to developing the world’s first un-manned solution for hazardous area inspections is a product of collaboration and refinement with CSIRO’s Data61 to adapt their latest robotic concept: Magneto. Magneto, and its unique characteristics, immediately presented opportunities for Nexxis. Magneto’s electromagnetic feet help it to climb and inspect complex industrial structures with a high degree of freedom and flexibility.

These factors combined have prompted leading international companies to commit to completely phasing out human confined-space entries by 2025. Ready to take up this challenge and assist industry transition towards a safer future, robotic specialists Nexxis, together with project partners Data61, NERA and SixDe, are developing the world’s first EX-rated robotic crawler that can navigate complex environments and access incredibly hard-to-reach areas. It is hoped that this technology will not only save lives but also dramatically reduce downtime costs at an industrywide level.

“Magneto can go further than human inspection ever could,” says Jason De Silveira, Nexxis Director. What is EX-rated? If you’re wondering what ‘EX-rated’ means, you’re not alone. The ‘EX’ rating is given to equipment that is classified as safe for use in hazardous areas (or EX-areas), such as highly flammable or unstable environments. Non-EX equipment may emit small sparks or reach high temperatures that can ignite an explosive atmosphere, whereas EX-rated equipment is able to withstand hostile environments and still function effectively – a feature that sets it apart from the rest. Despite there being many clear drivers for EX-rated robotic inspection systems, none have existed up until now. Driven by industry demand, this project aims to enhance the efficiency of operations and maintenance by using the latest technologies, including robotic sensors and innovations in the control of heat and spark output.

“With stable navigation and seamless movement, Magneto can place its feet in small gaps and on narrow beams, adapting its body configuration to navigate different beam separation and through narrow apertures.” “But we want to do more than just develop an exceptional crawler.” Together with project partners NERA, CSIRO’s Data61 and SixDe, Nexxis will extend the capabilities of the crawler as EX-rated compliant and integrate sophisticated imaging systems that can record and transmit images and data back to operating teams in real-time.

The unique features of the new-look Magneto will include an open-source camera that can pan and tilt. With 36x optical zoom for accuracy and speed, the camera can capture more of the environment it navigates through. “Magneto and its camera can gather data at extremely fast rates, meaning it can significantly reduce downtime for operators. And when downtime can cost millions of dollars per day per site, this one crawler has the ability to make a huge impact across our industry,” says Jason. “Enhancing functionality through robotics in this way provides operators with the ability to carry out a broader range of tasks with more accuracy, frequency and safety. By partnering with cornerstone organisations and leading global energy companies, Nexxis can proudly say it has become a leader in the technology, robotics and remote inspections solutions market. Everything we do at Nexxis is always geared to helping clients operate more productively and efficiently, using the most innovative technology and equipment available.”

Jason De Silveira, Nexxis Director

Collaboration creating opportunities Australia is a world leader in many areas of technology research, yet we regularly stumble when trying to commercialise these developments, rating low on our collaboration between industry and academia. With NERA’s funding and industry support, Nexxis are bridging the science and commercial worlds by providing an important link between the tertiary education sector and industry, supporting the growth of Australia’s robotic industry and advancing skills. “Through our partnerships we’re accessing state-ofthe-art research facilities and development platforms, which has a fundamental impact on helping close the gap to commercialise the technologies,” says Jason.

As well as providing vacation and graduation work for numerous Edith Cowan University and The University of Western Australia students, NEXXIS are in the process of becoming a registered training organisation (RTO) to support the increasing demand for robotic inspections. “It’s about onboarding people with new skills. You don’t kill an industry; you create a new industry. We’re trying to create a co-working space,” says Jason. “As humans, we’re very good at lateral thinking and problem solving. Robots aren’t. They’re purpose built to respond to our inputs, so we’ll still need the operators. So it’s not a conversation about taking jobs away; it’s about reskilling our people towards growth industries of the future.”



The robotic crawler is part of an exciting future for industries that can fully embrace the opportunities from advanced technology. According to new McKinsey Global Institute report, Beyond the supercycle: How technology is reshaping resources, it is estimated that between $900 billion to $1.6 trillion in savings throughout the global economy can be unlocked by technology-driven changes by 2035 – an amount equivalent to the current GDP of Canada or Indonesia.

Dr Sebastian Hörning, Energi Simulation Postdoctoral Fellow, and Professor Suzanne Hurter, Energi Simulation Industrial Research Chair.

How industry collaboration can help further unlock Australia’s resource base

NERA has partnered with The University of Queensland Centre for Coal Seam Gas (UQ-CCSG) and industry operators to commercialise leading research that will improve the accuracy of the resource models used in the Coal Seam Gas (CSG) industry, contributing to more cost-effective resource planning. The challenge is to select the ‘right’ data to use for specific purposes and design data processing tools that accurately represent the behaviour of different parts of the system.



From university R&D to reality


Against the backdrop of deepening data pools and an increasingly interconnected world of technology, mobile devices and the Internet of Things (IoT), for Australia’s energy resources sector, the central question – one shared by many industries – is ‘How can we use data better?’

50% The digital transformation process for the oil and gas industry could unlock approximately



Trillion in value for the global industry.

The Spatial Copulas (or non-linear geostatistics) project is helping industry use data better.

The energy resources sector uses advanced modelling techniques to produce estimates of reserves and plan resource production. Resource modelling uses large volumes of data, particularly spatially referenced data, to inform critical business decisions. While it is important to determine how to manage the volume of data, it is also critical to ensure that the models provide a good representation of relationships between different datasets and the different properties of the system being modelled. Known as the Spatial Copulas (or non-linear geostatistics) project, this initiative aims to integrate the computer code developed at UQ with leading industry standard modelling software to ensure that it can be used industry-wide. The project not only has the potential to save industry millions of dollars through better field design, it can also improve our understanding of Australia’s resource base and reduce environmental impacts through more efficient operations. Computer modelling is widely used by industry and government to simulate what might happen in different situations. These models touch our lives in many ways, providing critical input to decision making processes in diverse fields such as emergency services response, water resource planning, weather forecasting and transport systems. They are reliant on the selection of the ‘right’ data, the quality of the data and the processing techniques, as well as the processing capacity.

The project arrives at a crucial juncture for the energy resources sector, with demand for natural gas expected to increase by 50% by 2040 and the number of CSG wells in Queensland expected to at least double over the next decade. Developing modelling techniques that more accurately represent spatial relationships will contribute to the optimum placement of CSG wells – with potential to reduce overall well numbers while improving gas recovery, minimising environmental impacts and limiting disruption for landholders. This project plays a role in the digital transformation process for the oil and gas industry which, according to the World Economic Forum (2017), could unlock approximately $1.6 trillion in value for the global industry, its customers and wider society. Analysing bigger, more complex data to forecast resource reserves To identify potentially untapped resources, Australia’s CSG industry relies on a technique that uses mathematics and statistics to estimate where gas and water might be located through a process known as geostatistical modelling. When performed over large areas, these estimations are often based on the measurements of two adjacent areas, with data used to predict where resources might be located. But what if current modelling isn’t providing the answers industry is looking for?

This question was posed by industry at one of the UQCCSG’s workshops designed to identify some of industry’s greatest challenges. Industry turned to the UQ-CCSG with a problem: there’s a huge amount of data being collected and used in models, but the models themselves are failing to provide the answers required of them. It’s a sector-wide challenge that researchers from the Centre, Professor Suzanne Hurter, Energi Simulation Industrial Research Chair based at UQ-CCSG, Dr Sebastian Hörning, Energi Simulation Postdoctoral Fellow, and their team are determined to solve. The problem for industry arises where current geostatistical methods assume a linear and symmetrical relationship between two areas to make their predictions, without accounting for naturally variable conditions that occur in nature. “The current industry practice of potential resource analysis has limitations that can create modelling errors, which in turn lead to over- or under-estimation of resources and consequently the drilling of too many or too few wells with very large cost implications,” explains Sebastian, lead researcher for the project. “Conversely, an improved understanding and more realistic modelling will contribute to better informed decisions, better locations for drilling, an increased volume of resources to be tapped and the opportunity for improved production performance, while also reducing expenditure.”

According to Suzanne, even modest improvements in resource modelling have the potential to lead to enormous industry improvements. “To put the potential benefits into context, the industry in Queensland has more than 7,000 producing wells. Over time this is expected to more than double. So, considering that a well costs in the order of $1 million, just reducing the number of new wells by a few percent (without affecting production) could save industry hundreds of millions of dollars,” says Suzanne. Collaboration brings university R&D to commercialisation The first part of the project has seen Sebastian and colleagues at UQ-CCSG and the University of Stuttgart develop a new research code. This involved systematically comparing numerous traditional (linear) geostatistical techniques to non-traditional (non-linear) methods, creating several case studies. The development of the code then allowed the UQCCSG to approach NERA to help take the idea from concept to commercialisation.

By collaborating with project partners including UQ, Santos, Arrow and APLNG, NERA’s funding support and industry connections have helped integrate the code into Petrel, the most common modelling package for the prediction of oil reserves and production in Australia. NERA CEO Miranda Taylor says successes to be realised by the project underline the enormous value from accelerating university research into industry environments to meet operational needs. “Building a strong basis for R&D and skills in emerging digital and automation technologies is a priority if Australia’s energy resources sector wants to remain internationally competitive, and this project is a key example of how investing in new industry– research collaborative programs in the latest statistical analysis techniques can have huge operational benefits for our industry,” says Miranda.

An improved understanding and more realistic modelling will contribute to better informed decisions, better locations for drilling, an increased volume of resources to be tapped and the opportunity for improved production performance, while also reducing expenditure. Dr Sebastian Hörning, Energi Simulation Postdoctoral Fellow and lead researcher for the project

Impact and value beyond energy resources This project not only helps better inform industry, but it also has academic and government applicability. From application in groundwater resources management (especially important for Australia) to understanding the distribution of rainfall, this project will benefit the wider Australian community. “Models are used almost universally in this industry to make decisions that involve large sums of money, as well as by government to evaluate environmental impacts,” explains Suzanne. “The plug-in that this project is developing will be available globally. While the plug-in is specifically designed for the oil and gas industry, the underlying code could be integrated into other software to benefit a variety of stakeholders, especially those who rely on data that is connected to a location.”


By 2040, the demand for natural gas is expected to increase by



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To find out more about NERA’s activities that are supporting Australia’s energy resources sector and to join our energy innovation ecosystem, visit

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Creating our New Energy Futures Edition 2  

The seven stories in the second edition of our Creating Our New Energy Futures book series are examples of NERA projects and initiatives tha...

Creating our New Energy Futures Edition 2  

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