Research uses landfill gas tech for Bakken flaring solution

By Patrick C. Miller | September 16, 2015

A new technology that could help industry reduce the volume of flaring in North Dakota is being tested in the Bakken through the Environmentally Friendly Drilling (EFD) Program run by the Houston Advance Research Center (HARC).

The research is taking place at a Hess Corp. well site in the Blue Buttes area of McKenzie County using waste-heat-to-power technology developed by ElectraTherm Inc. of Reno, Nevada. The company is collaborating on the project with Gulf Coast Green Energy (GCGE), an ElectraTherm distributor headquartered in Bay City, Texas.

John Fox, ElectraTherm CEO, said that although the company has a great deal of experience in using its technology to turn waste gas into energy at landfills and waste water treatment facilities, this is its first gas flaring project.

“Lots of businesses have this same problem,” he said. “They don’t know what to do with waste methane gas. We can do something that’s not capital intensive by using industrial boilers to handle untreated gas. If there are fluctuations in the gas content or flow, the boiler doesn’t care.”

Funding for the project was provided by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (REPSEA) program and HARC through its EFD Program.

ElectraTherm applies Organic Rankine Cycle (ORC) and proprietary technologies to generate power from low-temperature heat ranging from 170 to 252 degrees F. At the oil well, natural gas that would otherwise be flared is instead used to fuel an industrial boiler. The boiler heats water to run the Power+ Generator, and produces clean energy that is used for onsite processes, offsetting the cost of electricity from the grid or expensive diesel generators.

“We can take raw gas where there is no treater and burn it just like treated gas,” said Loy Sneary, CEO of GCGE. “The neat part is that we’re doing something productive with the gas and putting it to a beneficial use.”

Richard Haut, HARC program director for energy production, said his team looked at various technologies that would make sense for a scalable pilot project in the Bakken. GCGE’s experience with using ElectraTherm’s technology in the energy industry appeared to be a good fit.

“We thought about all the flaring going on and thought that if we could take that natural gas and burn it in a boiler—no moving parts like a turbine or anything else—just something real simple, we could then take that heat and put it through an Organic Rankine Cycle and generate electricity,” Haut said.

Hess, one of EFD’s industrial sponsors, offered a well site for the project. Haut said they have worked with GTUIT LLC at the site and McKenzie Electric Cooperative, which provided an interconnection with its grid for the electricity generated.

Sneary said it’s the simplicity of the ElectraTherm technology that makes it attractive to operators. At the Hess site, he said it took about 90 minutes to unload the equipment and less than a day to get it running. He said the system could be moved to another nearby site with a large forklift in less than a day.

“When we turn the keys over to the customer, they really like the simplicity,” Sneary said. “Operators have been pleased with the lack of time they’ve had to spend on the equipment.”

In addition, Fox said, “The emissions profile of the site is greatly improved, the power is consumed on site and the equipment is easy to install and maintain.”

The EFD Program is a partnership between national laboratories and key university partners to develop and disseminate critical new technology to accelerate development of domestic reserves in a safe and environmentally friendly manner. Its sponsors and advisors not only include major energy and oilfield services companies, but also environmental groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund, The Nature Conservancy and Ducks Unlimited.


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