Pipes are the arteries of the industrialized countries. They provide companies and private households with water and ensure disposal of their wastewater. If sewage pipes are missing or defective, it has a disruptive effect on the economic cycle. To prevent their systems from grinding to a halt, governments and companies need to invest extremely large sums of money in repairing, renovating and replacing such pipes.

There’s a lot to do for pipe manufacturers – everywhere around the world. One example is in St. Petersburg, Russia, where the supply situation is critical both for drinking water and wastewater disposal. According to the foreign trade and marketing company Germany Trade and Invest (GTI), tap water in St. Petersburg is substandard because 40% of the city’s 6,755-km (4,200-mile) pipe network has been “worn to a frazzle.”

In Western European cities, by contrast, the level of wear and tear averages only 12%. “St. Petersburg is doing everything it can to remedy this defect and modernize its network so that it can eventually reach the same level as Munich or Berlin,” GTI said. The city is planning to spend nearly Euro 2.3 billion on its water supply by 2025.


Rusty Pipes in St Petersburg

The situation is equally tricky concerning wastewater disposal. “Not all the wastewater that is produced in this metropolis is actually cleaned. Dirty water still gets into the Neva and into other waterways,” GTI said. Moreover, a large proportion of the city’s sewage and water-supply system is outdated – most of the pipes are made of cast iron and rust very fast.

It’s an unfortunate situation that needs to be stopped. Starting in 2025, all wastewater that enters the natural water cycle must have been cleaned first. St. Petersburg is therefore replacing 900 km (560 miles) of its sewage system, building new wastewater treatment plants and planning to install a completely new wastewater purification system. The costs, according to GTI, will be approximately Euro 3 billion between now and 2025. In order to create a state-of-the-art sewage system, there will be a demand for pipe specialists.


U.S. Pipes in a Poor State

Expensive replacements will also be required in the U.S. over the next years. Nearly 42% of all pipes will be in a poor or very poor condition by 2020. In Chicago, for instance, part of the water infrastructure is already over 100 years old. In Miami-Dade County, around 14,000 miles of water pipes have reached a state of dilapidation. Overall, it’s a sobering balance, as a large proportion of U.S. pipes date back to the 1940s-1960s. As a result, around 3,000 billion liters of untreated wastewater seep into surface waters each year. What makes the situation worse is that the system is already overloaded by heavy rainfall.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) believes that the replacement of old and unusable pipes alone would require more than $1,000 billion in investments. Of this total, around $298 billion would be required for the replacement of wastewater and rainwater systems over the next 20 years. The largest proportion – 80% – will need to be spent on pipe replacements.

Additional pipes will be needed in the booming shale gas industry, and shale gas extraction will require technologies for water recycling and reuse. It will mean installing pipes that are resistant to chemicals – a need which presents good opportunities for pipe manufacturers and suppliers to support the current radical transformation of the U.S. water sector.


Major Need for Redevelopment in Germany

Faulty connections, cracks, drainage obstructions and damage from corrosion have also affected water and sewage pipes in Germany. DWA (the German Association for Water, Wastewater and Waste) believes that there is a major need for redevelopment now. About one-fifth of all systems are partly damaged and will need to be redeveloped in the short or medium term. The average age of Germany’s water and sewage pipes is 41 years, and the average calculated remaining useful life is 47.1 years.

What is striking is that there has been a slight shift toward more repairs in pipe maintenance, while the proportion of replacements and renovations is decreasing.


Material for Permanent Protection

One major point in the replacement of pipes is the choice of suitable materials for the manufacturing process. Until now preference has largely been given to stoneware and concrete, including reinforced concrete – depending on the medium and the throughput. If the medium is aqueous, the most important quality is corrosion protection. One option is to line the pipe with cement mortar, as this avoids direct contact with the steel pipe. At the same time, the alkalinity of the mortar ensures active corrosion protection. The trend that can be observed is an increasing preference for plastic pipes, which are gradually becoming more widespread in the creation of new networks – even though, according to DWA, their share is still “only” 7% of the total network. Other crucial elements in a water or wastewater pipe, apart from the material, are its length and its wall thickness.


35,000 Pipes Through the Emscher Sewer

One of Germany’s most attractive projects is the Emscher Sewer. Construction started in 1992, and completion is expected by 2020. It will have a total length of 51 km (31.7 miles), reaching from the wastewater treatment plant in Deusen, a district in Dortmund, to the confluence of the Emscher and the Rhine at Dinslaken. Total investments amount to Euro 4.5 billion, of which around Euro 3 billion have so far been invested into the project.

The Emscher Sewer project has 35,000 pipes with diameters between 1.4 and 2.8 meters (4.6 and 9.2 feet), which are installed 8-40 meters (26-131 feet) underground. The pipes are made of reinforced concrete. The gradient at these pipes is 1.5% (1.5 meters per km), with a wastewater flow speed of 4 km/hour. The aim of this large-scale project is to take the wastewater to its treatment plants via underground pipes.


EU Standards Cause Pressure to Act

Many European countries are now under pressure to act, particularly in Eastern Europe. All municipal wastewater facilities must meet EU standards by 2018. This means expanding and modernizing existing wastewater treatment plants as well as building new ones. Also, money has to be invested in expanding sewer systems. All this shows that the demand for pipes is clearly as strong as ever.

Innovative solutions for the tube and pipe sector will be presented at the next staging of Tube, International Tube and Pipe Trade Fair. Tube 2016 will return to the fairgrounds in Düsseldorf, Germany, April 4-8.