Nation’s largest hyperbaric facility gets an upgrade

Brandon How

Australia’s first deep water hyperbaric chamber suitable for testing subsea control modules has secured $600,000 in funding from the Western Australian state government. The chamber’s development is led by the Subsea Innovation Cluster Australia (SICA).

An existing chamber will be upgraded at a cost of $1.2 million and will be used to test subsea control modules common in the oil and gas industry. The other $600,000 is being provided by energy technology company Baker Hughes, also based in Western Australia.

The funding comes from the state’s liquefied natural gas jobs taskforce.

The chamber is expected to be operational later this year. This upgrade is expected to reduce the time needed to work on subsea modules from four months to two weeks. Currently, subsea control modules must be sent to the United Kingdom or the United States for testing, inspection, or repair.

Matrix Composites and Engineering’s existing hyperbaric chamber Image:

Matrix Composites and Engineering will upgrade an existing hyperbaric chamber it owns at its Subsea Test Facility at the Australian Marine Complex in Henderson, about 32km south of Perth. Subsea control modules are used to manage hydraulic and electric power flows to a subsea facility.

The facility is also the first deep water hyperbaric chamber in the southern hemisphere that can accommodate subsea control modules. Prior to this announcement, Matrix operated 11 hyperbaric test chambers, already the largest hyperbaric capability in the southern hemisphere.

Hyperbaric chambers are used to test a piece of equipment’s buoyancy, stiffness, water absorption, and temperature effects, while in a high-pressure environment.

Development of this chamber is being led by the Subsea Innovation Cluster Australia (SICA), which currently focuses on technology in the subsea inspection, maintenance, and repair sector. It was established in 2017 with half of the $1.18 million funding coming from the federally funded National Energy Resources Australia (NERA).

Baker Hughes is a member of SICA alongside 32 other organisations, including the University of Western Australia and sustainable development group the Harry Butler Institute at the University of Murdoch.

Western Australian Deputy Premier and Minister for State Development Roger Cook said this project would be a significant boost to the state economy.

“The McGowan Government’s vision and commitment in building Australia’s first hyperbaric chamber test facility right here in our state demonstrates our strategy of diversifying our economy by creating new industries and jobs,” Mr Cook said.

SICA cluster manager Dr Colin McIvor said that the project was initially conceived in response to complaints by oil and gas operators over the difficulties of sending their equipment abroad.

Dr McIvor also noted that SICA has a large overseas network, allowing the group to use costings and economic modelling from subsea clusters in Norway and the United Kingdom. An operatory advisory forum was also established to ensure the facility would meet industry needs.

NERA chief executive Miranda Taylor said that the hyperbaric chamber project would help cement the state and Australia as a centre for subsea tech expertise in the APAC region.

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