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Microturbines in the Oil Patch

by Greg Giese, President, Global Energy

Have you ever wondered about producing your own electricity to run your well motors or Reda pumps ? The microturbine might just be the answer to not only reduce your grid- connected utility bill, or a stand-alone electrical generator.

Developed in the 1990's and made commercially available in year 2000, the microturbine is a refrigerator-sized compact jet turbine (very similar to an aircraft APU auxiliary power unit) connected to a generator for black start or grid connected operation.

The units, which range in sizes of 30, 60, 75, and 250 kw per hour run on as little as 8 mcf gas per day. The true beauty of these natural gas powered units is that not only do they produce electricity, but also have a usable clean heat exhaust which can be run through a heat exchanger for hot water, chiller or desiccant operation. The microturbines can run between 50,000 to 80,000 hours before major overhaul, and yearly 8,000 hour maintenance can be as simple as changing a few filters. Most of these turbines have state- of-the-art microprocessor controls which allow for both grid-connect or stand-alone operation without expensive switchgear. Multiple units can be placed together in series for larger installations, and all can be chained together by one master unit. Both modem and network capabilities allow factory queried troubleshooting, and the ability of internet monitoring of the microturbines live operation.

The ultimate installation for a microturbine in an oil patch would be generating electricity (both peak shaving and sales of energy back to the grid) and utilizing the waste heat to make hot water for increased efficiency in well flooding. With a SPECTRUM remote monitoring system, these turnkey units could provide not only well production information, but also power generation and savings directly to your PC or cell phone via the internet.

There are a variety of microturbines available, some with air-bearings and some with standard oil bearings. The life cycle of a microturbine is anywhere from 50,000 to 80,000 hours, and most can be run continuously throughout the year. The standard microturbine units can run on sweet gas, while a specialized unit (with special gas scrubber) can run on sourgas. For smaller oil well operators, these are perfect solutions for casehead gas utilization, where there is not sufficient amounts to sell to a pipeline.

As an option, we are working with a group which will take excess gas and produce CNG/LNG and pay the operator $1.5 mcf. For those coalseam and Devonian Shale gas producers, they may be able to boost their bottom line by gaining a IRS Section 29 tax credit which amounts to about $1.00 per mcf. For those operators who cannot take advantage of the tax credit, we have the ability to form shell corporations where a group of investors buys a container-mounted microturbine installation, and can operate as a micro- utility, while still affording the operator all the cost savings and revenue possibilities.

Installation of these turnkey units is a standard natural gas and electrical hookup. The units come standard with grid paralleling gear, and are UL listed. New units have a 12 month factory warranty, and yearly service contracts which cover both maintenance and turbine replacement can be acquired for $3,000-$6,000 per year depending on the size

model of installation. Typical maintenance is changing the air filter every few thousand hours, unless in very dusty conditions.

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