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Thermoflex® Versus Steel Pipe: A Primer

Posted by Baker Hughes on Feb 25, 2020 7:47:26 PM

Conventional steel pipe has been the material of choice for oil and gas applications for decades. Thanks to recent innovations in reinforced thermoplastic pipe (RTP), there are now materials that may be better suited to some applications and are even more cost-effective solutions for fluid transportation.

What is Thermoflex® pipe?

Thermoflex® pipe is a spoolable transportation solution for hydrocarbons, refined fuels, and chemicals that delivers the greatest strength-to-weight ratio, chemical compatibility, and resistance to paraffin buildup in reinforced thermoplastic pipes. Baker Hughes’ proprietary, five-layer reinforcement structure of Thermoflex® can withstand high pressures and extremely corrosive conditions.

RTP pipe is designed with a highly smooth inside surface, about 100 times smoother than steel, which resists internal buildup, mitigates constriction and promotes transport capacity. Additionally, it needs fewer joints than conventional steel pipeline systems, which contributes to leakage prevention across the lifespan of the line.

The product is cost-effective and easy to install. Thermoflex® has the highest strength-to-weight ratio and longest continuous length of any commercially available flexible pipe. It is designed and tested for temperatures up to 180° Fahrenheit and pressures of up to 2,000 psi. It features no-weld couplings and fittings.

Thermoflex® is manufactured for superior operating life and for unmatched corrosion resistance. It has ultra-low permeation. It is resistant to H2S, CO2, bacteria and harsh chemicals. Notably, it has no or very low paraffin buildup characteristics. Thermoflex® is fully piggable and is suitable for hot-oil transport.

Thermoflex® can be used in a diverse range of applications: onshore and offshore; oil, gas, refined fluids, and brine; new installation or pull-through rehabilitation in aging existing steel pipeline systems. In many cases, no trenching is needed, minimizing cost and mitigating operational disruption.

Thermoflex® Product Types

Thermoflex® is a reliable and cost-effective solution for a wide variety of oil and gas applications. Depending upon the specifics of the application, several product lines in a wide variety of diameters are available.

All product types are available in 2.0-, 2.375-, 3.0-, 3.5-, 4.0-, 4.5-, 5.0- and 6.0-inch diameters. An 8.0-inch diameter next-generation pipe will be available in late 2020. 


Thermoflex® pipe is a low-cost piping solution specifically designed for oil and gas transportation. The five-layer design, consisting of, from outer to inner shells, of an abrasion-resistant, high-density polyethylene (HPDE) jacket, over an Aramid-reinforcement layer, surrounding a center high-temperature layer, encasing a Tybond layer and finally, an inner, proprietary, hydrocarbon-resistant liner.

This design is noteworthy for the following simplifying and cost-saving attributes: very high strength-to-weight ratio, fully piggable, very low permeation, ease of installation, extreme resistance to internal paraffin buildup, and a high degree of chemical compatibility. 

Thermoflex® Plus

For use in chemically corrosive, H2S-rich, and bacterially aggressive environments, Thermoflex® Plus is a reliable solution. It is specially designed with an inner polyphenylene sulfide (PPS) layer that enables smooth and continuous operations and functionality, even in adverse conditions.

Thermoflex® RT

Thermoflex® RT is specially designed for use in environments of high temperature (up to 180° F), aggressive chemicals and high oxidation. Both Thermoflex® and Thermoflex® Plus pipe are available with RT specifications.

Thermoflex® ECO

Designed for ecologically friendly applications, this is a three-layer pipe ideal for fresh and produced water as well as disposal lines. It is made of an outer HPDE jacket, surrounding an Aramid-fiber reinforcement tube, both of which encase an HPDE liner. It can accommodate up to 2,000 psi of pressure. In addition, a raised-temperature (RT) version of Thermoflex® ECO is available for application up to 180° F.  

PE Flex™ Plus Pipe      

For low-pressure (under 300 psi), low-temperature (up to 150° F) fluid transport, PE Flex™ Plus Pipe can be an excellent, cost-effective solution. As with the other Baker Hughes pipe, PE Flex™ Plus Pipe is characterized by low permeation and an ability to withstand paraffin buildup. It is best suited to long, continuous transportation of oil, gas, brine, and condensate.

In the Design Stage

In addition, a next-generation 8” product, capable of handling up to 2,250 psi of pressure is in the design stage. It is expected to be available commercially later in 2020.


Cost Comparison: Thermoflex® vs. Steel

Thermoflex® solutions provide strong value for customers. Total cost (CAPEX plus Installation) can range from 5 to 30% cheaper than steel line pipe. Although the unit cost is higher than steel, the installation costs (workforce plus time) are considerably lower, because no pipe benders or welding crews are needed, and less handling equipment and traffic is required. Installation time is a real value proposition: in many cases, 3000 feet of line can be put into place in 1 to 2 hours. Considerable OPEX savings are also realized because of the long lifecycle of Thermoflex®.  


When Would Steel Pipe Be A Better Option?

Thermoflex® pipeline can provide an excellent, cost-effective solution in numerous operation situations. Would steel be better in some cases? Certainly: for applications with a temperature higher than 220° F and internal pressure environments greater than 2500 psi, steel is recommended.  

FPS pipe cutting (1)

Case Studies

The following case studies illustrate the diversity of application and business success of several Thermoflex® applications.

Offshore Texas

Leaking pipelines can be a huge problem. In fact, there have been 1,300 oil spills from aging pipelines in the U.S. since 2010. 

An operator in Rockport, TX had a number of problems with an existing flow line, transporting an oil, gas and brine mix, from an offshore platform to its onshore facility. The existing 14,000-foot-long 6-inch and 8-inch steel line was beset by multiple leaks requiring regular repairs. 

An effective solution to this decayed and leaking pipeline was initiated using Thermoflex® spoolable pipe. The replacement pipe was pulled through the defective steel line. A new corrosion-resistant line was established, and the leakage stopped. 

Delaware Basin

In so many cases, a narrow range of pipeline specifications may be required to optimize project profitability. FPS Onshore has the flexibility and product line to meet your needs.

A customer in the Delaware basin had an engineering analysis that required a 5-inch pipeline for a 2,650-foot gathering line. A 4-inch line provided inadequate flow and a 6-inch line was too costly. The problem was, a 5-inch line was not a standard industry size.

Fortunately for the customer, one and only one company, Baker Hughes, carries the 5-inch line as a standard product offering. Thermoflex® RT was determined to be the solution to optimize the gathering of the 180° F, 750 psi gathering system. By not going with a conventional 6-inch pipe, the customer saved $23,000 in CAPEX alone.

Marcellus Shale

Many operators demand quick and easy installation. A customer in the northeast U.S. was engaged in the drilling of gas wells in the Marcellus Shale. After a number of successful wells were drilled, a new gathering line was required. 

This customer selected a 2.375-inch and 3.00-inch OD Thermoflex® spoolable pipe for their gathering tie-ins. Because of the ease of installation, the customer was pleased to be able to trench, backfill and tie in at a rate of one well per day.

Rocky Mountains

Paraffin buildup can be a major headache for operators of hydrocarbon transport systems. An operator in the Rocky Mountains was plagued by paraffin build-up in flowlines that produce oil and gas from wellheads to temporary storage facilities. Operations had to be shut down for pigging on a regular basis, contributing to delayed production and cost increases. 

Six-inch Thermoflex® RTP pipeline was determined to be a good solution for the operator’s problems. Within three weeks of order placement, ten reels of new pipe arrived. Installation began 90 minutes after the reels arrived on site. Once installed, early results indicated a greatly reduced presence of paraffin buildup within the Thermoflex® pipeline. 


High Points for Stakeholders

 Main Points for Management

Management and decision-makers will be quite interested in the following value propositions:

  • Strong as Steel but greater durability
  • CAPEX and OPEX savings
  • Time savings, especially during installation
  • Excellent track record
  • Ecologically friendly solutions available
  • Long pipeline lifespan
  • Unmatched service

Factors Engineers Should Note

Numerous factors are of concern when designing and building a pipeline. Key factors to compare with conventional steel pipe include:

  • Low permeation
  • Ultra-smooth interior
  • Strong resistance to corrosion, harsh chemicals, and paraffin buildup
  • Ease of Installation
  • Minor installation logistics needed
  • Fully piggable

Information for Operations Specialists

Operations specialists are typically concerned with factors that affect ongoing operation and maintenance of an active pipeline. The following advantages are inherent in Thermoflex® pipeline systems:

  • Long lifespan
  • Ease of installation and repair
  • Fully piggable
  • Minimal logistics required in maintenance
  • Limited seams and joints in comparison to steel, reducing leak proneness
  • Highly useful for the rehabilitation of aging pipelines 

Baker Hughes Capabilities

Baker Hughes is the leader in the oil-and-gas service industry, providing unique manufacturing capabilities, dedicated safety-first policies and a penchant for putting customers first. Their world-class technical organization is available to provide a high level of service in the installation and usage of their product lines.

Regarding Thermoflex®, experienced field-service technicians are on-site to ensure that installations and operations run smoothly, and, upon completion, they certify the installation project. In addition, they supply a deployment trailer to help operators with the installation, allowing for safe operations without the use of cranes or forklifts. 

Product Guide

Are you looking to design a new-build piping system or engage in the rehabilitation of an older worn-out system? Make sure you evaluate the many positives of Baker Hughes Thermoflex® solutions. 

Click Here To Download the Thermoflex Product Guide


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