With projects ranging from studies of ice-like hydrates that may contain
huge sources of natural gas, to a new type of gas-powered generator based
on ramjet aircraft engine technology, the U.S. Department of Energy is
adding a broad slate of new efforts to its research program to boost prospects
for natural gas in the nation's energy future.
The nine winning projects are among more than 40 new research ventures
the Energy Department expects to identify in the next few days - all selected
from a wide-ranging competition that spanned virtually every aspect of
the agency's fossil energy research and development program.
Pending completion of upcoming contract negotiations, the Energy Department
plans to award more than $6 million to the following projects. The winning
proposers will add $1.7 million of their own funding to the federal share. [click
on proposer name for more details]
Natural Gas Supply
- University of Mississippi, University,
MS, for a multisensor monitoring station in the Gulf of
Mexico to study natural gas hydrates beneath the ocean floor;
- Clarkson University, Potsdam, NY,
to develop computational techniques that can measure the behavior of
gas hydrates and predict possible safety problems;
- University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY,
which will team with the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics
to study the 3-dimensional structure and properties of methane hydrate
deposits off the South Carolina coast.
- Gas Research Institute, Chicago, IL,
to determine the feasibility of using a laser to drill natural gas wells;
- TerraTek, Inc., Salt Lake City, UT,
to improve a novel "down-hole hammer" drilling technique which
uses the power of the drilling fluid to help drive a drill bit into
a gas-bearing formation;
- Cementing Solutions Inc., Houston, TX,
to develop an ultra-lightweight cement that could help lower the costs
of completing natural gas wells.
Natural Gas Advanced Turbines and Engines
- Ramgen Power Systems, Inc., Bellevue, WA,
to design and test a pre-prototype version of an innovative concept
that uses the supersonic thrust of ramjets to spin an electric power
- Siemens Westinghouse Power Corporation,
Pittsburgh, PA, to study a way to capture and recycle the
heat inside a gas turbine to boost efficiency;
- Rolls-Royce Allison Engine Co., Indianapolis,
IN, to develop a conceptual design of a fuel-flexible turbine
system that could be integrated into fuel cell hybrid modules.
The projects will be managed by the Energy Department's newly created
Strategic Center for Natural Gas, part of the agency's National Energy
Technology Laboratory. They were selected from a competition begun last
fall when the department's Office of Fossil Energy issued a "broad
agency announcement" covering 14 technical topics throughout its
coal, oil and natural gas research programs. Selections announced today
cover two of the competition's areas of interest: Natural Gas Supply
and Infrastructure, and Advanced Turbines and Engines.
- University of Mississippi, University, MS, will establish
a multisensor monitoring station in the Gulf of Mexico to increase understanding
of the nature of natural gas hydrates beneath the ocean floor and the
role hydrates may play in seafloor instabilities. Gas hydrates are ice-like
crystals that trap natural gas under conditions of high pressures and
low temperatures, such as those found on the ocean floor. The potential
of hydrates as a long-term source of natural gas is huge, but additional
research must be conducted before viable production methods can be developed.
To help provide needed information, the University's Center for Marine
Resources and Environmental Technology will study gas hydrate mounds
and hydrocarbon vents in the Gulf of Mexico. University researchers
are especially interested in understanding the relationship between
these geologic features and episodes of instability on the ocean floor
that can create hazards to drill rigs and undersea piping.Since keeping
research vessels onsite for extended periods of time can be expensive
and difficult, observations of the mounds and vents tend to be "snapshots"
taken infrequently. Yet, these mounds and vents can change within
a matter of days. To provide almost continuous observations, the University
will install a remotely controlled station to monitor sea floor stability
in the vicinity of a gas hydrate mount or hydrocarbon vent in the
northern Gulf of Mexico. The Department of Energy funding will be
used for a portion of the development and associated laboratory work.
Proposed DOE share: $650,000; participant share: $130,000; project
duration: 12 months. Contact: J. Robert Woolsey, (662) 915-7320.
- Clarkson University, Potsdam, NY, will add to the
understanding of natural gas hydrates so that a computational tool can
be developed to design technologies capable of harvesting natural gas
from hydrates beneath ocean floors and locked in permafrost. Although
methane hydrates in the oceans and in permafrost may be a potentially
enormous source of natural gas, scientists do not have a complete understanding
of the process in which natural gas is released from hydrates and the
resulting natural gas and water flows. Furthermore, the associated safety
problems due to gas pressure buildup during drilling in a hydrate layer
are not fully understood.
The primary goal of this project is to provide a fundamental understanding
of the conditions that cause the natural gas to disassociate from
the ice-like hydrate within sediments. Using a multiphase flow laboratory
at the University, researchers will be able to visualize and measure
the way hydrates disassociate. Computational models will be developed
to predict the rate of natural gas pressure buildup during drilling
and the way gas and water flows in a reservoir as the hydrates release
their gas. These models will be valuable tools that can help address
safety related issues.
Proposed DOE share: $261,944; participant share: $72,797; project
duration: 36 months. Contact: Goodarz Ahmadi, (315) 268-2322.
- University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY, will team with
the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics, Travis County, TX,
to pursue basic research - such as 3-dimensional structure and physical
properties - of a methane hydrate deposit on Blake Ridge, off the South
Carolina coast. Researchers want to determine the linkage between hydrate
concentrations and seismic characteristics.
The research will build on surprising observations that came from
the first measurements of hydrate and natural gas taken in 1995 on
the Blake Ridge offshore of South Carolina. The observations showed
a thick zone of natural gas beneath the hydrate formation. New interpretations
of this "free gas zone" have revealed complex structures
interlaced with faults and possibly, the movement of free gas into
the hydrate formation.The new study will be a joint Department of
Energy-National Science Foundation venture to improve the 3D seismic
images and deploy a new array of ocean-bottom seismometers to allow
never-before-seen seismic images of a hydrate deposit.
Proposed DOE share: $199,475; participant share: $55,857; project
duration: 36 months. Contact: W. Steven Holbrook, (307) 766-2427.
- Gas Research Institute, Chicago, IL, will team with
the Colorado School of Mines and Argonne National Laboratory to determine
the feasibility of using a laser to drill natural gas wells. A spinoff
of Cold War military technologies, the novel drilling system would transfer
light energy from lasers on the surface, down a borehole by a fiber
optic bundle, to a series of lenses that would direct the laser light
to the rock face. Initial tests have shown the potential for lasers
to cut through virtually any type of rock, but researchers still need
to resolve such technical issues as how to send the necessary energy
20,000 feet or more into the wellbore and aim the energy beam with directional
and rate control. If such a system proves feasible, it could significantly
increase drilling speed and reduce costs.
Proposed DOE share: $500,000; participant share: $214,291; project
duration: 36 months. Contact: Richard Parker, (773) 399-5419.
- TerraTek, Inc., Salt Lake City, UT, will benchmark
the performance of a fluid drilling hammer and recommend ways to improve
its performance. Downhole hammer systems convert a portion of the power
resident in the drilling fluid into mechanical force that drives the
drill bit into the formation. Several downhole hammer tools are now
available for boreholes where it is possible to use air as the drilling
fluid, but hammer drilling using fluids under high borehole pressures
has experienced problems. Nonetheless, if the technology can be developed,
these so-called "mud hammers" could be especially useful in
drilling into deeper hard rock basins. They could also provide an opportunity
for other drilling advances, for example, serving as a source of sound
waves for "seismic-while-drilling" look-ahead systems.
Proposed DOE share: $338,000; participant share: $108,000; project
duration: 24 months. Contact: Arnis Judd, (801) 584-2400.
- Cementing Solutions Inc., Houston, TX, will develop
an ultra-lightweight cement to improve efficiency and reduce costs of
cementing operations associated with completing natural gas wells. Drillers
inject cement into the annulus outside of the casing in a wellbore to
physically support the weight of the casing, protect the casing from
corrosion, and prevent fluids from migrating upwards outside of the
casing. In this project, researchers will study the use of ultralight
hollow spheres that would be added to reduce the weight of the cement,
increase its strength and make it easier to set into place.
These new type of cementing approach could help reduce the safety
and environmental hazards created by cementing failtures. The Minerals
Management Service estimates that, due to cementing failures, more
than 30% of well producing in the Gulf of Mexico have excessive gas
in the wellbore outside the pipe.
Proposed DOE share: $668,070; participant share: $171,306; project
duration: 24 months. Contact: Fred Sabins, (713) 957-4210.
- Ramgen Power Systems, Inc., Bellevue, WA, will test
a pre-prototype version of Ramgen's Brayton cycle-based power-generation
system. In the engine design, a single, high-speed rotating disk replaces
the conventional multistage compressor, combustor and multistage turbine.
This disk harnesses the proved technology of the ramjet flight propulsion
engine to a rotary application to generate electricity.
A pre-prototype Mach 2 Ramgen engine operating on natural gas has
been constructed by the company and is being tested in Tacoma, WA.
In this new project, engineers will further develop the Mach 2 engine
and design a second "Beta" engine that could use "waste
methane" released from a coal mine during mining operations.
The projected capability of the Ramgen technology to operate on a
wide range of dilute fuels at low pressures could lead to important
new market opportunities.
Proposed DOE share: $2.5 million; participant share: $632,000; project
duration: 8 months. Contact: Glenn Smith, (425) 828-4919.
- Siemens Westinghouse Power Corporation, Pittsburgh, PA,
will join with Texas A&M University to study an in-situ
reheat concept for gas turbines. Capturing and using the waste heat
inside the turbine could improve the efficiency of new power plants
by 2 to 4 percent, reduce fuel costs, lower nitrogen oxide emissions
and, ultimately, reduce the cost of electricity. In addition to developing
a reheat stage conceptual design, researchers will study new methods
fo injecting fuel and for using the fuel to cool the turbine blades.
Texas A&M will focus on aerodynamic studies to help resolve key
technical issues related to the reheat concept.
Proposed DOE share: $600,060; participant share: $200,205; project
duration: 27 months. Contact: Claire Halucks, (412) 256-2736.
- Rolls-Royce Allison Engine Co., Indianapolis, IN,
will evaluate the market potential and conceptual design of small gas-fired
turbines initially sized at approximately 0.5 megawatts but scalable
to 5 megawatt turbines that could be integrated with a fuel cell in
hybrid power systems up to 30 megawatts. One goal will be to develop
a system that could replace some of the natural gas with low cost "reasonably
dirty" alternate fuels that could be made from such sources as
biomass without costly intensive cleanup. Another goal will be to improve
key components that will result in a machine capable of achieving 100,000-hour
life expectancies. Such units would be particularly attractive in distributed
generation applications as an environmentally superior replacement for
small diesel-powered generators.
Proposed DOE share: $243,000; participant share: $146,000; project
duration: 12 months. Contact: Bob Moritz, (317) 230-3614.