by Rima Ruhman

Fighting the Scourge of Black Powder

Aramco Scientist Receives Prestigious Global Recognition for Anti-corrosion Work
Abdelmounam M. El-Sherik is the first Aramco employee to join the esteemed NACE Fellowship of renowned global leaders in the science and engineering of corrosion.

An Aramco research consultant’s work on efforts to mitigate the impacts of black powder in pipelines is receiving global recognition.

Black powder is a menace in gas transmission pipelines, which impacts pipeline operations and customers alike by reducing flow and lowers compressor efficiency, and results in increased operating and capital expenditures. And, perhaps most alarmingly, it also presents a major health and environmental hazard.

Abdelmounam M. El-Sherik, a senior research science consultant in the Research and Development Center (R&DC), recently received the prestigious National Association for Corrosion Engineers (NACE) Fellows Honors Award.

El-Sherik received the award for his outstanding and sustained contribution “in understanding the origin of black powder, in developing the science of its formation, and in implementing strategies for controlling black powder in gas pipelines.”

NACE Fellows must influence and impact the corrosion community as a whole, and the candidate’s own organization. It is the first one of these awards in Saudi Aramco history.

Getting to the Root of a Problem

When El-Sherik joined the company in 2004, one of his R&DC colleagues directed him to a meeting regarding black powder. At that time, the substance was widely accepted in the company as a steel mill scale — a byproduct of the steel making process.

From his steel background, El-Sherik knew that steel mill scale wouldn’t produce those large amounts of black powder in long service gas lines. The challenge was then to identify the nature and origin of the black powder.

He led a five-year research study that concluded the powder was a result of internal corrosion of pipelines caused by condensed water moisture and the presence of oxygen inside the sales gas pipelines. In addition, the study identified the source of water and oxygen, and outlined best management practices that consist of a combination of several control methods that include, at their heart, water moisture control and elimination of oxygen coupled with downstream removal methods.

Before El-Sherik’s extensive research, iron sulfides were generally recognized by the industry as the only form of black powder found inside gas transmission pipelines. The new breakthrough in identifying a specific iron oxide as a new form of black powder has changed the way the industry views and manages black powder. This has impacted Aramco’s approach in managing black powder with standards, best practices, technologies, and engineering solutions companywide.

El-Sherik is the founder and chairperson of both the international and regional NACE Technical Exchange Groups (TEGs) on Black Powder. These TEGs are platforms for sharing and exchanging information and are expected to develop new best practices and standards for the industry. He has spoken at numerous conferences and authored dozens of journal and conference papers on black powder, as well as authoring a book chapter on the subject, and is active in a number of industry organizations.

“Becoming a NACE Fellow is quite an honor,” he said. “My focus on black powder has given a lot back to Aramco and the industry as a whole, and it’s good to know my efforts are recognized by NACE International, the world authority on corrosion.”

— The Arabian Sun: September 16, 2020 | Vol. LXXV, No. 36