19 May 2020

Changing The Mindset On Geothermal

By Ben Strange, CEO, Strada Global

Geothermal energy is potentially the largest – and presently the most misunderstood source of energy in the US and the world today’ Al Gore 

So why don’t we use more of it? After all, geothermal energy has practically unlimited potential and could theoretically power our entire planet. Yet only a tiny fraction is being used. The challenge is tapping into it in a cost-effective way. The barriers are high capital costs, a perceived limited geography and the technical challenges – and time required – to unlock the potential of geothermal. What the world needs is a major technological development that makes harnessing the power of geothermal possible and cost-effective on a global scale. 

That’s exactly what we at Strada believe we’ve developed with our patented drilling technology. Our technology solves the challenges that have slowed the development of this major resource. The next challenge is to change the mindset of the industry. 

There are two main drilling techniques used around the world today for geothermal projects. Mud rotary is where muds are added to a roller cone, to grind the rock and lift those cuttings of rock to the surface. It also has an added benefit of safely controlling the well from varying pressures drilled in to. The other drilling method is air percussion which is much faster, but has weaknesses in that it’s difficult to lift cuttings back to the surface at depth or in water and it requires a lot of air pressure to run.  

In very simple terms mud rotary is good for soft rock and can go deep but breaks down in hard rock and traditional air percussion drilling is very good in hard rock but breaks down with well control and depth. 

Our technology is a combination of both, with a fluid hammer operating system. This allows us to use all the ‘muds’ and safety elements of the mud rotary system, but we also use a percussion system for all the speed of air percussion drilling. A fluid hammer is nothing new. But until now, nobody has been able to get around the problem that if you bring mud down into a hammer, it’s abrasive and destroys the equipment. 

We’ve combated this by patenting a dual circulation system. This means we’re able to separate the muds from a clean driving fluid, making our drill bits last a lot longer than any other drilling equipment and can operate faster and more efficiently, while retaining all of the safety of mud rotary techniques. It’s not rocket science. We combine two of the world’s most proven technologies into one patented concept. We’ve simply got a very clever way of doing that. Our mission at Strada is renewable energy. We’ve developed cutting edge technology for the geothermal industry, but to us the real cutting edge element is the integration. 

Just as we went back to basics to rethink traditional drilling approaches and combine all the positives of the two leading drilling systems into one patented system, now we believe it’s time to change the mindset of the industry around the potential of geothermal. And to do that, we’re going to have to work together. 

For example, a traditional drilling program using mud rotary can drill a well in hard granite for say, about half a meter an hour. And that rig costs a lot of money every day it operates. So even if you are drilling for 24 hours a day, without any unexpected delays, to get to 8,000 metres, you can see that the drilling costs are going to blow out and make the entire project economically unviable.  

As a comparison in the same hard granite, our technology currently can operate at 10-12 metres an hour. Not only can we drill faster, we can also drill further, with our drill bits lasting up to 10 times longer. Our technology makes the entire process more energy-efficient and cost-effective, compounding the total savings for the client. 

That’s why our model is to charge per metre. And that’s unusual. Most projects will run on a day rate, whereas we have a technology that can reduce drilling time by up to 70%. To us, this is an opportunity to partner with forward-thinking drilling companies, plugging in our drilling equipment to their projects and significantly reducing the drilling cost to the client. 

By bringing in our technology, we’re able to make geothermal projects happen much faster and more cost-effectively in areas where drilling wasn’t previously possible. It’s good for the industry to be aware of the real benefits that technological innovation can provide. 

Companies are starting to realise that if they complete a well in two months, they can move on to another project very quickly, and avoid running the risk of losing tenders because they took too long or were too expensive. So the industry itself has helped to push our technology forward by just creating that demand. 

If you want to make geothermal an effective energy alternative, breaking down those barriers helps the contractors see a viable market. 

Gradually, the mindset is changing. For decades, we’ve had a known geothermal map, with available resources in some parts of the world, but not in others. Everything we know about geothermal potential has been modelled out of that, from policies to incentives. With our technology, that map is unlimited. The potential of geothermal can now be unlocked, anywhere.