Agru America started producing large-diameter pipe in April at a facility on South Carolina's Charleston Harbor, where it can extrude 1,968-foot-long sections right into the water.
The company says the high density polyethylene pipe is the largest diameter, from 63- to 98 inches, manufactured in North America.
When sealed at both ends, the pipe is buoyant and can be towed by tugboat to customers around the world. This ocean-tow option soon will be the first of its kind in the Western Hemisphere for PE pipe, according to Cheryl Rhude, Agru’s vice president of marketing.
The US business of Austria based Agru Kunststofftechnik is manufacturing pipe from PE100, PE100-RC and PE4710 resins with diameters up to 98.4 inches for high-volume flow applications, such as gas, potable water and wastewater.
“When we tell an engineer or PE pipe distributor about the sizes that will become available, they look at us like they can’t believe it,” Rhude said in a phone interview.
“The largest size of PE pipe previously produced in North America was 63 inches and 63 inches is the smallest size we will be producing at this plant,” she said.
Easily fused and so flexible it can withstand major earthquakes, PE pipe installs quickly and resists leaking and corrosion. The smooth internal surface enhances hydraulic flow and deters zebra mussels and other biological issues, which saves on operating and maintenance costs.
For applications where products will be ocean towed, Rhude said to think cooling water intakes for power plants, sea water desalination plants, mining jobs and other coastal projects.
“Imagine if it’s a nuclear safety water system or a wastewater treatment outfall,” she said. “You pull right up with the tug and unhook the pipe, then hook it right up to the outfall or connection line without having to do any fusion. You won’t have to pull that 2,000 feet up on land and handle it in any way.”
Installing pipes that are more than a third of a mile long minimizes or eliminates jobsite welding, which reduces labour costs.
For inland projects, Agru is targeting large-diameter sewer and irrigation projects.
“Out West they have problems with drought,” Rhude said. “A lot of the time they transport their water via an open concrete canal and you lose so much of it — up to 40% — through evaporation. Enclosing irrigation districts has become popular, but there haven’t been a lot of good piping options.”
Agru’s factory on the harbour represents a $29.6m (€27.9m) investment and will create 36 jobs, according to The Post and Courier newspaper.
Rhude said the privately held company has not released financial details for the project.
“It has been a substantial investment and the investment continues,” she said. “This factory opened with one line and will eventually have three. It’s a state-of-the-art facility with the largest fixtures and equipment for solid-wall PE in the Western Hemisphere.”
Customers will have the choice of how their product is delivered. It can be sent by conventional shipping, truck or rail if the train company can accommodate the load, in addition to tugboat, which will require some lead time.
“You’re subject to all maritime laws, and several entities are involved when you do an ocean tow,” Rhude said. “A surveyor writes the entire travel plan, and we and the tug owners are subject to the speed and course. It’s a huge deal if you’re going through the Panama Canal or Suez Canal. More people are involved and permits, security and tug assist is needed.”
Right now the only other company in the world towing long-length PE across the oceans is the Pipelife Group in Norway, Rhude said, although there was a small Turkish business servicing the Mediterranean Sea.
Agru still has to do some waterfront easement and permit work before its tug service begins. But the plant has filled three orders to date with two going to US customers and one to Peru, Rhude said.
In addition to PE pipe, Agru America manufactures a variety of geomembranes, liners and barrier systems in high and linear low density PE for drainage, filtration, chemical containment and landfill caps. The business has three other US plants, in Georgetown and Andrews, South Carolina, and Fernley, Nevada.