Revisiting old “Zeppelin” ideas could optimize major construction projects.
Max Chernetsov P.Eng.
Sustainability and reduced environmental impact are important considerations for many construction projects. Public opinion always supports progressive and responsible developments, design and construction activities. Modularization is a technique for the construction of complex facilities in remote locations. For cost and schedule efficiency of large projects, the completion of labor intensive work undertaken near urban areas. Manufactured and assembled modules then delivered to distant construction sites as large dimensional and heavy shipments. In theory, such modules could weigh 1,000 metric tons or more. Most modules shipped to date are of lighter configurations - less than 150 tons each - due to limits of the surface load bearing capacity of the roads and bridges.
This document reviews, in general terms, the possibility of reducing the overall shipping weight of heavy modules by applying the lifting force of attached hydrogen-filled balloons for transport or on site for critical heavy lifts.
Hydrogen was used for over 150 years as a lifting gas in air balloons until the explosion of the Hindenburg Trans-Atlantic airship in May 1937. Since that time the inert gas helium replaced hydrogen but developments did not advance due to the high cost of helium and its limited supply.
Hydrogen is a very light gas (molecular weight 2.016 gm/mol) that can be produced by using electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen (electrolysis), or by processing fossil fuels. These options make hydrogen widely available at a low cost in large quantities. Annual production of hydrogen is well over 50 billion cubic meters in North America. Hydrogen has a slightly better lift capacity than helium.
The lifting capacity of hydrogen-filled air balloons is limited. The series of smaller balloons could be used instead of a large one. For 134 metric tons of lifting force, for example, the balloon(s) size would be approximately 125,000 cubic meters. The actual size of required hydrogen balloon(s) will change with temperature and elevation. The best lifting force of a hydrogen balloon is at low altitude and in cold temperatures. These qualities make it ideal for use in remote Northern locations.
HEAVY LIFT HYDROGEN BALLOON
The module construction industry is currently experiencing rapid growth. Thousands of modules, rigs and other heavy loads weighing hundreds of tons each are required every year. Enormous investments in construction often face weather-related challenges such as seasonal road bans and limited access to the remote locations.
Traditionally weather impacts on transport can be mitigated by construction of costly all-season asphalt roads that take years to build. Various road mats made from wood, steel, or plastic also used to strengthen secondary and temporary roads to facilitate the transport of heavy loads.
The objective of this document is to suggest the possibility of using the lifting power of hydrogen balloons to reduce an effective overall weight of large loads and thus reduce schedules and costs. The steps outlined below are designed to visualize the transport process and responsibilities for evaluation purposes only:
- Mobilization of deflated balloon(s) with hydrogen supply
- Connecting balloon(s) to a load and inflation with hydrogen
- Transport shipment to destination
- Compress or release hydrogen and disconnect the balloon
The operation of hydrogen balloons would be high above the load without actually lifting anything off the ground considerably reducing risks. The hydrogen balloons merely act as a "weight reduction" technology.
Potential benefits are:
- Reducing the load on roads during the spring break-up season in Northern locations, or the "major rain" season in tropical regions to allow transport
- Enabling the use of smaller cranes to lift loads on site
- Optimizing temporary roads construction
- Extending shipping periods for heavy loads
- Allowing larger shipments
- Lowering requirements for significant upgrades to the roads and bridges
- Working in "limited-access" remote regions
Further studies and the field testing of prototypes required to the further develop this technology. However, even one successful implementation could potentially return the entire development investment.
Hydrogen balloons could potentially be used to reduce the effective weight of massive complex shipments for better transport and lift options. Successful implementation of this technology will extend shipping seasons and reduce capital investment in infrastructure. The minimization of temporary access road construction will have a positive impact on the environment. This technology will support responsible Oil and Gas developments in Canada and around the world.
March 01, 2017