Although dry ice blasting sounds like something from a futuristic sci-fi comic, as Ed Nimmons, chief operating officer of DI Global, explains, it’s not an ultra-modern idea at all. “Dry ice blasting as a concept has been around since the 1970s,” he begins. “Dry Ice Scotland (later to become DI Global, with the support of Air Liquide) started in 2011 with the mission of applying the technology to the heavier applications we tend to see in the UK, such as coating and corrosion removal. In other countries, the technology is generally used in the manufacturing sector for cleaning greases, resins, glues and plastic residues. In the UK, we have a lot of heavy industry but less manufacturing, so we have always focused on using dry ice for maintenance purposes.
“Traditionally, dry ice has not been deemed powerful enough to tackle these heavier applications. But what we have done is to make a few small but important tweaks to various parts of the process to get the very best
out of the technology – we call this HICO2 blasting, or high-intensity CO2 blasting.”
In addition to these tweaks DI Global has also developed several proprietary innovations, such as its on-site dry ice production system, which enables dry ice to be made in any location – whether on a boat, an offshore platform or even in the middle of the desert.
Nimmons believes it’s the packaged system that’s attractive to the oil & gas industry, “as it provides a complete solution and avoids any complicated supply chain issues. This includes raw material storage, media production and blasting equipment. It’s known as the DIG system.” To commercialise this on a wide scale, in 2016 DI Global joined forces with Air Liquide, an international heavyweight with the world’s largest CO2 infrastructure. “The joint venture has allowed us to operate globally and scale up our innovation on an unprecedented level.”
A complementary solution
So how does the DIG system differ from other industrial cleaning solutions? “We describe the system as a tool in the box rather than a replacement for any existing technology,” explains Nimmons. “It is frequently used alongside other methods. However the key selling point is that it does not produce any waste media, whilst also having the ability to work on large surface areas.”
And what are the system’s main benefits? “The primary benefit is that the media ‘sublimates’ (turns from a solid into a gas) on impact. There is no mess to contain or clear up after blasting aside from the removed contaminant, which is minimal.”
Nimmons adds that, “The key advantage of this is the avoidance of encapsulation. In many areas, especially in the oil & gas and petrochemical sectors, the containment of blasting media is a major concern as it can pose a threat to compressors, turbines and other sensitive equipment. The DIG system can also be used around live electrical equipment.”
What the above means in layman’s terms is that fabric maintenance blasting can be carried out with minimal or no shutdown time. Nimmons observes that although the actual blasting time can be slower than with other methods, the DIG system is consistently achieving between 50% and 70% cost reduction on projects.
The financial savings alone make this an attractive proposition for the oil & gas sector, but Nimmons is keen to point out that there are also important safety benefits. He says: “The system does not penetrate steel so can be used on surfaces of thin wall thickness. There are no HAVS issues and a massive reduction in dust. The main safety question we are asked is about the CO2; because we use compressed air there is actually a very low concentration of CO2 when blasting, and in a well-ventilated area this is dispersed into the surrounding area immediately.
“Finally, the CO2 we use is 100% recycled, so we have a very good environmental profile. An independent study showed that the DIG system delivers 85% reduced carbon footprint when compared to traditional means.”
As well as research work, Nimmons also cites a number of real-world applications of the technology that are demonstrating its value. A recent oil & gas application saw the system being used in the maintenance of a compressor module on a North Sea oil platform. Nimmons says: “This was an area that was proving difficult to maintain using traditional methods due to the complexity of the surrounding area, which included numerous gas compressors.
“A one-day familiarisation training course was carried out onshore, and a DIG operative travelled with the equipment to carry out further training/supervision during the project.”
Nimmons reports that the project was completed in 50% of the allocated time and saved slightly under 50% of the originally estimated costs.
So what’s next?
The oil & gas market is evidently embracing the technology, and Nimmons alludes to new products in the pipeline as well as geographical expansion (with key growth areas being the USA and South Asia). But he’s also keen to move into other fields too. “We are making waves in other industries, such as aerospace and marine, which are gaining traction quickly. We hope to replicate the success we’ve seen in bringing dry ice blasting into industries that haven’t previously been able to reap its benefits.”l