An assessment of the performance of high density polyethylene copolymers for natural gas distribution pipes
The total thermoplastics pipe market in west Europe is estimated at 900,000 metric tonnes for 1977 and is projected to grow to some 1.3 million tonnes of predominantly PVC and polyolefins pipe by 1985. By that time, polyethylene for gas distribution pipe and fittings will represent some 30% of the total polyethylene pipe market. The performance characteristics of a high density polyethylene are significantly influenced by both molecular weight and type of comonomer; the major influences being in the long-term hoop stress resistance and the environmental stress cracking resistance. Minor amounts of hexene-1 are more effective than comonomers lower in the homologous series, although there is some sacrifice of density related properties. A synergistic improvement is obtained by combining molecular weight increase with copolymerisation. The Long-term design strength of polyethylene copolymers can be determined from hoop stress measurement at elevated temperatures and by means of a separation factor of approximate value 22, extrapolation can be made to room temperature performance for a water environment. A polyethylene of black composition has a sufficiently improved performance over yellow pigmented pipe to cast doubts on the validity of internationally specifying yellow coded pipe for gas distribution service. The chemical environment (condensate formation) that can exist in natural gas distribution networks has a deleterious effect on the pipe performance the reduction amounting to at least two decades in log time. Desorption of such condensate is very slow and the influence of the more aggressive aromatic components is to lead to premature stress cracking. For natural gas distribution purposes, the design stress rating should be 39 Kg/cm2 for polyethylenes in the molecular weight range of 150 - 200,000 and 55 Kg/cm2 for higher molecular weight materials.