A new age of materials: Modumetal nanolaminated alloys

By Michael Rogers

Modumetal’s patented manufacturing uses electricity instead of heat to produce ultra-high-performance, nanolayered metals
Modumetal’s patented manufacturing uses electricity instead of heat to produce ultra-high-performance, nanolayered metals (photo: Modumetal)

As a pioneer in the development of nanolaminated alloy technologies, Modumetal has developed a patented additive manufacturing process that can be applied as a corrosion mitigation solution for conventional metals – and functions as a means to grow complete nanolaminated structural parts in a single production run.

To find out more about the company’s work with advanced metal coatings and additive metal manufacturing, Energy Northern Perspective spoke with Christina Lomasney, CEO, president and co-founder of Modumetal, who makes it clear that nanolamination is set to revolutionise the manufacture of structural metal components.

Corrosion mitigation
Christina Lomasney explains that Modumetal’s work with nanolaminated alloys began with corrosion mitigation for structural material applications, where, she says, “we have already demonstrated a quite dramatic impact on the longevity of assets and their ability to withstand corrosion, wear, and other environmental factors, and so we’ve been able to really disrupt in that industry.”

Christina Lomasney, President, CEO and Co-Founder of Modumetal Inc.
Christina Lomasney, President, CEO and Co-Founder of Modumetal Inc.

Modumetal’s corrosion mitigation offerings are specifically tailored to address different operating environments. “We have a product called NanoGalv, which is a nanolaminated galvanizing system – so a zinc-based alloy system – that is used in environments where oxidative corrosion is the threat,” she says. “In industrial environments or downhole environments, there’s sulphidisation when encountering hydrogen-sulphide gases – downhole oil and gas production and oil refining would be an example. In that case, we have a product called Nanoplex, which is in nickel-based alloy system.”

“In the case of offshore oil rigs, it’s a very aggressive oxidation environment, because you have an accelerator in the form of saltwater, you have heat, also an accelerator, and all kinds of oxidants. “We have deployed products all over the world – in rigs everywhere from offshore Australia, the Gulf of Mexico, offshore and northern Africa, on shore in the United States, offshore in the North Sea – I think you get the idea. It’s cold environments, hot environments, salty environments – all sizes of rigs,” she continues.

After 7 years of field trials, Modumetal nanolaminated systems have demonstrated nearly 10 times the performance of traditional treatments. “So, where the galvanized and the cadmium fail in about somewhere in the 5- to 7-year range – and by fail we mean fully fail so they have to be removed – we have not yet reached failure with the NanoGalv – but at the rate we’re seeing, those systems will likely last somewhere in the order of 95 years,” Lomasney explains.

“And what’s more, we are less expensive upfront than what the industry is currently using today. Our commitment to our customers is an improvement in their return on investment from the first day of deployment,” she continues. “So, we can say, ‘Buy it, it’s competitively priced – and by the way, instead of replacing it every 5 years, you can wait until the next generation comes along.’”

This longevity achievement hasn’t gone unnoticed, as major oil and gas companies including ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BP have called out the Modumetal trademark in specifications.

“We also license our technology, so our whole manufacturing process was designed from the start to be able to enable an existing supply chain to onboard the process and produce it in their respective region. As an example, a UK company called Rollstud Limited – a major regional manufacturer and distributor – is now producing our products and distributing in the North Sea and beyond,” Lomasney adds. “So, it’s also reinvigorating the supply chain and creating opportunities for the supply chain to be able to compete on something other than just cost. It’s now cost and performance, which is a real breakthrough for those suppliers.”

Fundamentally different metals
But corrosion mitigation is only a first act for Modumetal, as Christina Lomasney points out, “Ultimately, we believe that this is a technology that’s going to have a massive influence on both reducing the impact of the metals manufacturing process for industrial scale applications and also on the performance of the products that are made from these metals. It’s really a transformation in the metals industry that’s just getting underway.”

Modumetal’s nanolaminated parts perform better against corrosion and at competitive price
Modumetal’s nanolaminated parts perform better against corrosion and at competitive price (photo: Modumetal)

“Our first applications that we’re focused on commercially are our nanolayered alloys for corrosion protection,” Lomasney says. “The reason for that focus initially is that it’s very complicated to get new materials specified for these types of applications – especially new materials like ours that are fundamentally different from conventional steels.”

“So that’s been our main focus,” she says. “Our development exploration of this technology started in structural materials. So, our first products were iron-based alloys designed for armour applications and structural applications, and ultimately, that’s where we see the biggest impact of the technology.”

“This class of materials have around for a very long time. The challenge then is producing them in any sort of appreciable scale and with economics that can make them accessible for industrial applications,” adds Lomasney.

Growing metal
She emphasises that “adapting an electrochemical process that’s similar to electroforming to manufacture parts” has been a significant breakthrough for Modumetal.

“And what’s interesting about electrochemical manufacturing in particular is that it’s fundamentally an additive manufacturing process,” she explains. “We are actually growing metal in that condition atom by atom.”

“And it’s a ‘net-shaped’ manufacturing process, meaning that whatever shape you start off with at the cathode, that’s the shape you will wind up with; you are actually growing and forming a part. So, we are leveraging that fundamental contribution of the electrochemical process – and we’re combining it with our nanolayered alloys and the unique structural properties that we get from those alloy systems – to be able to produce additively components.”

“What’s really interesting right now is that there’s been kind of a major breakthrough that’s taken place in parallel with our development activities in the field of 3-D printing,” says Lomasney. “And so, now we’ve got access to some really exotic scaffolds for growing our metals. We can take a nonstructural component that’s been produced for form-fit analysis, for example, and actually turn it into a structural part.”

“What we’re most excited about is that you’re eliminating all of the iron-making sequence. There’s no intermediate production; there’s no negative manufacturing – no machining, stamping or cutting – to get from essentially a raw material to an end part in one step. So, it’s a massive breakthrough from the standpoint of the efficiency of the production process – and not to mention a really interesting and unique kind way of designing parts from a structural perspective.”

The future
And the future? “This is just the first of a multitude of products we’re bringing online. And as you can imagine, fasteners have applications well outside the oil and gas industry, so we’re also taking this technology to other market segments,” Lomasney says. “In addition to that, we have a series of product lines are bringing online in the oil and gas industry, including some of the downhole pumping equipment, which is very frequently replaced in the tubular systems, but by and large, our commitment to the industry is consistent – and that is that we are improving return on assets from first day of deployment.”

“The two key elements to that equation for us are we are competitive up front with the cost of what they’re doing today, and we are extending the longevity of that asset. And in some cases, we are even less expensive. Today, there’s a lot of focus on the operational efficiencies, especially in North America, that have been achieved with new oil production techniques, like fracking for shale oil and unconventional production,” Lomasney emphasises. “But one of the dynamics the industry has seen is that the return on assets is actually not improving. The challenge there is that while these processes have become more and more efficient, they are operating in ever more aggressive environments, and that means that capex replacement costs are significant.”

“If you’ve got operational efficiency in the numerator and cost of assets in the denominator, what’s going to reduce the cost of the assets as the operating environment gets more and more extreme? This technology will change that denominator – it can really change that ratio and deliver an improvement in return on assets. Fasteners and the galvanizing are just the first demonstration of that – we have many more products to come in the pipeline.”