IChemE awards success for BP-Illinois collaborative research


by Alexander Chilton, The BP International Centre for Advanced Materials

A collaborative research project led by Nancy Sottos, the Donald B. Willet Professor of Engineering in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Illinois, fought off stiff competition to win the Oil and Gas Award at the IChemE Global Awards 2016.

The IChemE’s Oil and Gas Award recognises the best project or process to demonstrate innovation in the oil and gas sector, efficient energy use or the development of energy production methods that reduce energy intensity.

The winning entry entitled ‘Autonomous Detection of Damage in Coatings’ was a collaborative research project undertaken by the BP International Centre for Advanced Materials (BP-ICAM), and involved Illinois postdoctoral researchers, Wenle Li and Maxwell Robb, and faculty researchers including Sottos, Scott White (aerospace engineering) and Jeffrey Moore (chemistry), and BP mentor Dr Sai Venkateswaran.

“This award showcases a fantastic example of industry working with academia to solve real-world challenges through collaborative and innovative research,” said Philip Withers, the Director of the BP International Centre for Advanced Materials.

The protective coatings and paints on large steel structures, such as pipelines and bridges, are susceptible to damage in the form of small cracks which are difficult to detect. These cracks significantly compromise the integrity of the coating, leading to damaging corrosion of the underlying metal structure.

The BP-ICAM team developed an additive to coatings that causes cracks to change colour or fluoresce automatically when damage occurs, making cracks easy to detect without the need for expensive technology.

“We are delighted to have won IChemE’s Oil and Gas Award for our research,” said Sottos, the project’s principle investigator. “The ability to detect cracks early, before failure, improves safety and has potential to significantly reduce maintenance costs across a wide range of industries.”

Dr. Robert Sorrell, vice president for public partnerships at BP, said: “In the BP-ICAM we are already witnessing the benefits of collaborative partnerships. This project is a great example of a taking an innovative piece of science and translating it into a practical application.”

Another BP-ICAM research project, led by MatSE professors Robert Averback and Pascal Bellon at Illinois, was also nominated as a distinguished finalist at the IChemE Global Awards 2016.