Partnership developing underwater laser cutting system enters next phase

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The cutting head is so far rated for depths up to 500m and as been verified at technology readiness level 6 (Image: Claxton)

A collaborative partnership developing underwater laser cutting (UWLC) equipment for nuclear decommissioning is entering its next phase.

Lasers have the potential to deliver a low carbon, quick and clean underwater cutting method to the decommissioning market. Laser cutting can be used to process underwater stored radiated components, enabling them to be repackaged for future processing or storage. 

In addition to being able to cut structures from both an inside and outside position, UWLC has been shown to be safer, cheaper and faster than conventional cutting methods – such as water jet or diamond wire cutting – all while taking up less space and using less consumables. 

Since 2019, a partnership underway between Claxton, the University of Aberdeen and The National Decommissioning Centre has been developing a 15kW UWLC system.

In phase one of the partnership, the system was proven capable of cutting structural steel up to 120mm thick at depths of up to 70m, with the cutting head rated for depths up to 500m. The system has been verified at technology readiness level 6 and suitable for further development.

The second phase of the partnership, planned for 2023-24, involves further development of the UWLC system and the trialling of it in real offshore environments. A special cutting tool will be developed in order to better manipulate the existing cutting head in specific applications. 

The 15kW system can so far cut structural steel up to 120mm thick at depths of up to 70m

The performance of phase two will be measured against typical mechanical or abrasive cutting solutions in an actual offshore cutting scope. The objective is to demonstrate the system as a proven cutting technology for suitable applications, with the system being verified at technology readiness level 7 and suitable for further commercialisation.

In the trials performed so far, cutting speeds up to 300mm/min have been achieved when cutting 25mm-thick stainless steel, which is the fastest the test arrangement can currently travel. Further optimisation of the cutting process will enable even faster cutting speeds to be reached, according to the partners.

Lasers are being used to develop cutting solutions for the oil and gas, nuclear and offshore wind decommissioning market

“It is fantastic to be involved in such a great partnership and work with an inspiring team on this development project,” said Craig Baxter, Decommissioning Technical Manager at Claxton. “The technology is showing great promise in delivering cross sector decommissioning work scopes. I am looking forward to delivering an offshore decommissioning work scope through 2023 with a view to commercialising the technology and opening it up as a cutting solution available to the oil and gas, nuclear and offshore wind decommissioning market.” 

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