The RCSG is accelerating innovation. For example, by conducting research together with partners in the full scale test center.
New drilling technology for geothermal heat
One of the partners is the startup Canopus of Jan Jette Blangé and Diederik Wawoe, who are developing a new drilling technique that makes it feasible to make very long horizontal boreholes with short bends deep underground. This is an essential invention that will enable a borehole to produce an unprecedented amount of hot water than is currently possible. Breakthroughs of this kind are desperately needed to bring geothermal energy production, and therefore the energy transition, closer.
Steel Jet Drilling
Jan Jette Blangé knows the RCSG’s test facilities well. Until a few years ago he was responsible for two halls of the center, which then still belonged to Shell. He left Shell and started Canopus to develop a new drilling technique: the steel jet drilling technique. Blangé: “With conventional drilling techniques, you put the weight of 10 cars on a drillhead with a diameter of 20 centimeters. It is then difficult to make a turn under the ground and drill far through. However, if you blow high-pressure fluid with grains against rock, you erode it quickly. In that case, you don’t need that weight on the drill head and it is possible to make long holes deep underground in the best spot that can produce a lot of hot water.”
Needed for geothermal energy
For oil and gas, you can drill straight down. Then, when you drill a deep well, there is a very high ambient pressure, just like at the bottom of the ocean. Oil and gas are much lighter than water and usually come to the surface by themselves. The extraction of geothermal heat is different because it requires the production of heavier hot water. And a lot of hot water, because a bucket of hot water contains much less energy than a bucket of oil. To make the water flow easily from the reservoir, much more ‘reservoir contact’ is needed than for oil and gas production and improving that contact is best achieved by drilling branches, for example in the shape of the roots of a tree. To do this, you need to be able to make bends underground and then drill far inside the hot water reservoir.
Steering robot invention
Gulf Oil and Shell previously worked on this invention, but ultimately put it on the shelf. There was still one component missing – the missing link was being able to steer the drill head. Canopus invented a steering robot for steel jet drilling and built a prototype. With the help of the RCSG and some companies, and with a grant from the Rijksdienst voor Ondernemend Nederland, this prototype is being tested in the RCSG’s test facilities. The steering robot is placed behind the drill head, after which the combination in RCSG’s drill testing machine drills into rocks under high ambient pressure.
The experiment is successful. The transport of the pellets to the drill head for steel blasting is well controlled. It is also shown that the drill head drills faster than current commercial drill heads and that the steering robot steers it in the right direction. Canopus’ invention has since been patented.
The invention is now ready for field testing. This step also begins at the RCSG, because the field field equipment is first tested there on the drilling rig. “Field tests are extremely expensive,” says Blangé about this. “That’s why you don’t want any surprises there and exclude risks as much as possible in the lab.”
Blangé is thrilled that Shell’s former testing facilities are now available to the entire world thanks to the RCSG. “The RCSG is an innovation accelerator because it removes the risks of innovations. And look at all these facilities together. Together they form an ideal testing environment covering just about every aspect of well construction. In the RCSG, students and SMEs could also help and encourage each other under the guidance of the TNO experts. I greatly appreciate the pace at which TNO has mastered all these large and complex facilities. In the coming years, I expect many success stories of technologies that, thanks to the RCSG, make geothermal heat extraction a great success!”