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Program ID: Innovation Anthology #862
Program Date: 04/25/2017
Program Category: Alberta, Energy, Environment, Oil Sands

C-FER Researches Enhanced Geothermal For Electricity

PROGRAM #862    INTERVIEW WITH BRANDON CURKAN

MP3:   19.8 MB

TIME:  8:11 Minutes

Intro:  Brandon Curkan is a research engineer in the Production Operations Group at C-FER Technologies, a subsidiary of Alberta Innovates.  He is exploring the use of geothermal to produce electricity and the development of enhanced geothermal systems with applications such as improved SAGD production.

BRANDON CURKAN

CC:  BRANDON, YOU'RE DOING WORK WITH GEOTHERMAL.  CAN YOU EXPLAIN THE AREA THAT YOU ARE ACTUALLY RESEARCHING?

BC:  Yes.  We're mostly researching the power production side of geothermal.  Often people think of geothermal energy as more the heating side--such as hot springs and residential heating--but we're looking into power production.

This is done worldwide, typically hydro thermal resources, so anything on a fault line.  We're looking at enhancing the efficiency of enhanced geothermal systems, EGS, also called "Hot Dry Rock" that we can use here, potentially anywhere in the world.

CC:  WHERE WOULD YOU FIND IT IN ALBERTA?

BC:  So with a typical hydrothermal system you would have to go look for these.  They are really only in very specific places, usually on fault lines.  EGS is a little special because you can do that potentially anywhere in the world.

For a geothermal system you need three things to exist.  You need water, permeability and heat.

In a hydrothermal system, that all exists already.  Anywhere in the world if you drill deep enough, you can find heat. 

So the idea with EGS is you produce your own water reservoir.  You drill a well deep enough to get to the heat, inject water, and then you can produce that water in a closed system.  So you can theoretically do it anywhere.

CC:  AND HOW DOES THAT RELATE TO ELECTRICAL POWER?

BC:  So with these systems, if you get enough heat coming back up, you can use this heat to run a turbine.  And essentially produce power wherever you have one of these stations.

CC:  IS THAT FEASIBLE IN ALBERTA?

BC:  Technically its feasible anywhere.  There are EGS programs that have been done.  They've been proven to produce power.  So, yes it is technically feasible.

The question really comes down to economics right now.  We're, I mean in Alberta, we're gifted with a lot of really cheap energy resources.  So to do this in Alberta, typically you're looking at a high capital cost for a very low gain.

What we're trying to do is apply technologies and expertise that we developed in our thermal oil sands to see if we can boost the efficiency of EGS systems. 

CC:  SO THEN YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT SAGD?

BC:  Yeah, absolutely.  SAGD "Sag-D" is a really good example--Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage.  In that, what we're doing is we're drilling a pair of wells and in one of the wells we are injecting steam to heat up the reservoir and mobilize the bitumen.  And then were producing the colder fluid.

That's exactly geothermal, just done in reverse.  In geothermal you're producing a steam and then injecting a colder fluid and doing that kind of in a closed loop.

So we've done this in a way in Alberta and Canada but just in a little bit differently.   So the expertise and the technology that we've developed to tackle some of the challenges that have come up with this, they can be applied to the geothermal industry.

CC:  WELL LETS EXPLORE THAT A LITTLE BIT MORE BECAUSE WHAT YOU ARE ESSENTIALLY DOING IS TAKING TECHNOLOGY THAT IS ALREADY DEVELOPED FOR ONE INDUSTRY, FOR OIL AND GAS, AND THEN TRYING TO APPLY IT TO SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT.  HOW EXACTLY DOES THAT WORK?

BC:  That's really good question. Yes, that's exactly what we're trying to do.   

If you look at the oil and gas industry and the geothermal industry, there are a lot of similarities.  I mean, you can just start with the fact that they both use wells.  So from there, I mean, drilling rigs, completion equipment, casing and connection--those are all things that we're really good at in the oil and gas industry here.  That can be directly applied to the geothermal industry.

So a lot of that infrastructure and expertise can be transferred over.  As an example at C-FER, a lot of our capabilities are high temperature, high pressure testing, casing and connection testing, flow assurance.  All that stuff we have primarily done for the oil and gas industry and we're finding now can be done as well for the geothermal industry.

CC:  HOW EASY WOULD IT BE TO ADAPT?

BC:  It probably depends on where your area is.  Some of it is going to be easier than others.  It's not my field of expertise, but casing and connection seem like there's actually quite a close crossover there.  For pumping systems there are some crossovers with electric submersible pumps.  But there are also some differences in that geothermal you can also use mine shafts pumps which we typically don't see in the oil and gas industry.

So it’s probably a question of where is your area but often it's not a large stretch.

CC:  WOULD THIS APPLY IN THE OIL SANDS AREA AS WELL?

BC:  Yes, absolutely.  There's potential to kind of use both of these together.  For example, SAGD needs to produce a lot of steam to mobilize the bitumen.  If you could pair a SAGD system with a geothermal system, you could potentially produce your steam for your SAGD operation using a geothermal well and therefore reduce the energy costs of a SAGD operation.

BC:  IS THIS A TECHNOLOGY THAT YOU COULD SAY EXPORT ELSEWHERE?

BC:  Yes, absolutely.  I think that's kind of the short term goal of this.  Realistically because of our cheaper energy, I'm not sure that we'd see EGS in Alberta in the short term, but we could definitely export as you said our technology and our expertise to other places that are doing geothermal. 

So places on fault lines like Iceland, New Zealand, and California are doing this very readily right now.  If we could prove that we could improve their systems and the efficiency of their systems with our technology and our expertise, then, yeah, definitely we would see this as an export from Alberta. 

So New Zealand, for example, they're very big in the geothermal energy.  A lot of their power is renewable and a good chunk of that is geothermal.  But because there are so many people that are doing this on such a scale, they honestly have the expertise on drilling these wells.  So they're actually looking to places like Alberta to see what we do here in our thermal oil wells and copying that over to their geothermal wells. 

So we see that there is definitely some synergy there and some ability for Alberta to export their expertise in these.

CC:  SO NEW ZEALAND COULD BE A MARKET FOR TECHNOLOGY THAT'S DEVELOPED HERE?

BC:  Absolutely, any country realistically that's using geothermal for power production would definitely be a market. 

CC:  YOU MENTIONED CALIFORNIA AND ICELAND.  HOW ARE THEY USING GEOTHERMAL?

BC:  California typically is a power producing area for geothermal.  So I mention the geyser fields there.  They are producing a large amount of power just through that one field so with their fault line.  They're more focused on the power production side.

Iceland is kind of doing both.  But interestingly enough, most of Iceland's residential heating is done through geothermal.  It's over 90 percent of their residential homes have their own geothermal systems.  Much smaller scale, we're talking 6 to 10 feet underground type of thing, but each one of those is good enough to heat and cool their homes.

And as well they are also working on power production.

CC:  NOW IN THE NEWS RECENTLY THERE'S BEEN SOME TALK ABOUT USING OLD OIL WELLS FOR GEOTHERMAL.  DOES THIS IDEA TIE INTO THE SORTS OF THINGS THAT YOU'RE WORKING ON?

BC:  The sorts of things we're working on as far as looking for efficiency improvements could definitely tie into that.  We're not looking at that directly.  We're kind of looking at this as more of a general improvement.

But yeah, any efficiency improvements we see using oilsands technology, that could apply to any geothermal system--hydrothermal EGS or these smaller one off's. 

CC:  CAN YOU GIVE ME SOME DETAIL ABOUT THE RESEARCH THAT YOU ARE DOING UP TO THIS POINT WITH THE ENHANCED GEOTHERMAL?

BC:  Yeah, we've done a couple of projects so far with some different geothermal operators.  But right now what we're really focusing on is our EGS optimization demonstration JIP--Joint Industry Project. 

We're trying to get this launched at this point which would basically be a staged project that would look at exploring the impact that our oil sands technology could have on geothermal systems.  And then the idea would be, the end of the project would end with an actual demonstration well.  A physical well that's been drilled and we can prove out these technologies.

So you start off with modeling this equipment and seeing what kind of efficiencies we would expect.  And then if you see a significant gain, it would be moving on to let's actually drill a well in Alberta and put these to the test.  And then we can train our models, get better data out of that, and really see how much efficiency we can gain.

CC:  WHEN DO YOU EXPECT TO SEE SOME RESULTS FROM THE ENHANCED GEOTHERMAL?

BC:  This is an ongoing JIP, so we're still looking for some partners on this; hopefully, sooner than later but until we kind of solidify who is actually working with us on this and our partners in this group, we're kind of still in that phase of flux right now.

CC:  THANK YOU VERY MUCH BRANDON.

BC:  Thank you.

Brandon Curkan is a Research Engineer in the Production Operations Group at C-FER Technologies. 

  
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