Cold Facts – the story behind how and why we developed the Jotun Arctic testing station

By Svein Erik Andresen, Global Sales Director

According to a United States geological survey, the Arctic region holds approximately 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and 13 percent of undiscovered oil. Recent years have seen a significant growth in interest from the international oil and gas industry in developing these resources. But equally strong has been the desire to protect this extremely fragile environment. 

It was while considering a solution to this dilemma that we hit on the idea of the Arctic testing station. My belief was the development of the region is inevitable, but also minimizing the environmental impact was essential. If we were going to support the development of the oil and gas industry in the Arctic in the most environmentally sensitive way possible, we had to fully understand how or if our coatings would perform successfully in the conditions they would face as well as leaving a minimal footprint.

The idea of an Arctic test station was formed several years ago, when emerging projects began to be located further north and in the Arctic region. While material selection was mainly based on accelerated laboratory tests and the experiences of previous projects, very limited data was and still is available in the market and asset owners or manufacturers have limited choices to select or to offer. 

The specific challenges of the Arctic are not a myth to us. Oil and gas exploration started decades ago and we have many years of experience with several coating systems performing well in cold and harsh climates. 

Historically, cold climates basically mean that things take longer to rust, and the coating systems that work in warmer climates will also work in the cold north. This was in our thoughts when starting field testing in the Arctic. 

We wanted to understand the Arctic environment better and to try and find out how Arctic conditions influence the performance of our coatings. 

As the leading coating supplier in the protective and marine markets, we felt obliged to learn more and to share our knowledge in the market. As a Norwegian company, we also have the advantage of being able to utilize local resources in the Arctic.

We have always been extremely serious in our commitment to the environment. I believed the only way we could be 100 percent sure that our coating systems could withstand the very specific challenges that the Arctic climate would provide was to go there, be there and test them.

At just 650 miles from the North Pole, the archipelago of Svalbard is the last landmass before you reach the polar ice cap. Historically, it was known for its mining industry, but this was in decline. Svalbard was ideal for what we wanted to do, but we needed to get permission from the Norwegian government. Thankfully, the government was extremely supportive and Innovation Norway helped and guided us to establish contact with Svalbard University (UNIS) as well as the engineering company LNS. To be honest, before we started consultations I didn’t know what the reaction would be. But as we talked to each group about our plans you could see their smiles growing. All of them backed what we wanted to do – to promote a greater understanding and awareness of the Arctic while also testing the in-service performance of our coatings against laboratory results.

With everyone behind us at every stage, I’m very proud to say a process that could have taken several years to get off the ground took less than a year.

Our test station is used for a range of protective coatings – PFPs and abrasion resistant coatings. We investigate the degradation mechanisms specific to the Arctic environment. We have an internal set of different test methods and criteria developed for revealing the most critical coating failures to be expected. We also record corrosion rates. The coatings under investigation involve ‘standard’ North Sea corrosion protection systems with and without zinc and with different topcoats and the performance and application of specially developed low temperature coatings. And, in a region that experiences high-level UV light 24/7 for six months, we assess how that affects our coatings.

The Arctic is continually teaching us new lessons. Where once we understood it to mean extreme cold and a dry environment, we are now seeing large temperature variations and increasing precipitation in the form of rain and snow. One thing that surprised us was the amount of sand in the atmosphere. Without the right protection, it can make your eyes extremely sore and it has a powerful abrasive effect on coatings and infrastructure.

Daily information from UNIS on temperatures, UV levels and overall weather states helps us calculate long and short-term effects on our test panels and provides us with a comprehensive understanding of conditions.

The local community is also benefitting. Oil and gas storage tanks and domestic fuel pipes will be coated with Jotun products tested at the station, providing people with confidence and proof the corrosion protection is fit for purpose. And our testing station is a busy place, with visits from the community, the university and customers who are all keen to see the results of our work.

The Arctic testing station at Svalbard has been a great success in terms of what it has taught us about the climate. It has also shown how a private enterprise, the government, academia and local communities can work together for the greater good; in this case to help the world understand better about the Arctic and how to sensibly balance economic and environmental requirements.

I am very proud of what we have achieved to date at Svalbard. However, I know that as the Arctic changes and evolves, the test station will continue to have an important role to play in understanding the complexities of this fascinating region and ensuring its protection.