Tata Steel Supporting Offshore Wind Innovation (Interview)

In a bid to help reduce offshore wind energy costs by 40% by 2020, Tata Steel recently delivered 400 tonnes of 3D profiled and submerged arc welded (SAW) tubular steel to Bladt Industries. 

The Danish wind turbine foundation manufacturer will use the steel to build an innovative suction bucket foundation that will be tested at Borkum Riffgrund 1 wind farm.

Our team met with Julian Thompson, Tata Steel Head of Sales and Development, for offshore and renewables at this year’s WindEnergy Hamburg held from September 23rd to 26th, 2014.

Mr. Thompson agreed to share details of the contract, company’s plans, as well as his view of future market conditions.

OW: First of all, I would like to congratulate you on the completion of the contract. Could you tell us exactly how important it is for your company?

Thompson: Tata Steel, together with Eisenbau Krӓmer, is targeting offshore wind foundation structures as a key market for our products. Both companies are pipe manufacturers and the structure we supplied was a brand new design of jacket foundation so it was a very important project in many respects. It was also unique in the sense that the jacket is attached to the seabed using three suction buckets. As a result, the jacket was installed very quickly – in approximately 6 hours – meaning there was no need to use piling which is costly and can be disruptive to sea life. The buckets allow the jacket to be positioned on a  sandy-clay seabed, after which water is pumped out to create a vacuum, this provides sufficient stability for the foundation to stay upright.

The contract is important to us in the sense that the new design has a lot of potential and we hope the successful trial will enable the design to be moved into serial production for future offshore wind projects.

OW: What were the individual roles played by Tata Steel and Eisenbau Krӓmer in this contract?

Thompson: We have a strong partnership with Eisenbau Krӓmer because together the two companies can produce the full range of pipe dimensions.

We also work with Eisenbau Krӓmer because it can produce larger diameter legs, while Tata Steel mills are very economic in the production of bracing, as the raw material for the pipes come from our two plate mills in the UK. That is really the foundation of our partnership.

OW: Does the suction bucket jacket have advantages over other types of foundations in terms of water depth?

Thompson: Jacket foundations are for water depths of over 35 metres, they’re the proven technology for deeper waters. We are seeing increasing numbers of projects using jacket foundations – including Galloper, Neart na Gaoithe, Inch Cape and Moray Firth. We think the need for jackets will grow and we see strong potential to sell our steel into this market.

OW: How long did it take you to deliver 400 tonnes of 3D profiled and submerged arc welded (SAW) tubular steel to Bladt Industries?

Thompson: This was a very fast-track project. We took the order in November last year and we had to complete it by March this year.

OW: What actions did Tata Steel take to become a key supplier in this sector?

Thompson: We were able to offer quick delivery because we make our own plate. We control our own quality processes and production scheduling right from iron ore receipt. Having in-house control of the supply chain means plate can be scheduled for pipe-making and then delivered to the customer more quickly and more efficiently.

I believe competitive price, product integrity and quick delivery set us apart from the competition.

OW: Do you believe that will be enough to cope with cheap Chinese steel?

Thompson: Jackets are designed with offshore grades of steel and Chinese material is not yet accepted in the market at these grades.

The problem with imports from around the world is also that freight costs are very high. I worked in Asia for 17 years and know the supply chain there very well. In theory supply from Asia is possible, but to actually ship it around the world is very expensive because of the pipes mass, so far it doesn’t seem to be economic.

In addition to this, European specifications are quite complex and hard to navigate. The next major wind farm projects in Europe are going to need 50, 60, or even 70 jackets each adding an extra layer of difficulty.

We still see offshore wind jackets as a European steel market because the customers want the proximity of supply, so if there are issues or contract changes suppliers are readily to hand.

OW: Besides Bladt, who are your biggest clients?

Thompson: The market is emerging for jackets, and traditional jacket makers are companies like Smulders, Burntisland Fabrications, and Spanish company Navantia.

Those together with Bladt are the main four at the moment, but there are others who have potential.

OW: Have you ever considered entering the wave and tidal energy market?

Thompson: This is something we are looking into. Tata Steel has already supplied to Pelamis and Oyster, but the quantities were small as they are still at the prototype stage, we are involved in all aspects from the towers to foundations and we are also looking at tidal, marine and floating foundations. In all these areas we see applications for steel, we’ve also invested GBP 2 million in new equipment to prepare us for the market.

OW: What markets are you currently focusing on?

Thompson: Northern Europe, Germany and the UK are the main offshore wind markets, with the French and Belgian markets also growing.

OW: Are you taking any part in the US offshore wind market?

Thompson: We are looking into it at the moment. They are expecting to use five jackets at the 30 MW Block Island wind farm, and there is another one, DeepWater 1, which is a 1 GW wind farm. We are happy to supply any market in which jacket foundations are being deployed.

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Offshore WIND Staff; Image: navingo
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