Hybrid engine uses less fuel while drilling for it

At a plant east of downtown Houston, a North Carolina company is building hybrid power systems for oil rigs.

The systems are designed to hook up to normal generators used in the oil field, and charge while the generators are working, according to FlexGen Power Systems, which designed the systems and is building them with Amerimex Motors & Controls in Houston.

The systems load electricity into solid-state storage devices called ultracapacitors that are different from batteries, providing short-term storage of up to 1.2 megawatts of capacity, said Josh Prueher, CEO of FlexGen.

The systems can cut down fuel use about 15 percent, and are meant to be used with either natural gas or diesel-powered generators, said Jeff Juergens, director of FlexGen’s oil and gas business.

Oil field generators burn enormous quantities of fuel, especially when engines need bursts of power for such tasks as pulling miles of pipe from a well. The result is a sudden jump in the work rate and a lot of wasted generator fuel, Prueher said.

Engines equipped with the hybrid systems can take supplemental power stored in the ultracapacitors, allowing the generators and engines to work more efficiently, he said.

“The engine just basically gets to run smoothly,” Prueher said. “It doesn’t see those big spikes.”

As a result of the hybrid technology, FlexGen says oil drillers will require fewer generators and use less fuel.

U.S. Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, who toured the plant earlier this month, said the hybrid systems probably will draw attention in an industry increasingly interested in cutting down costs. Asked if he would support incentives or any other regulatory encouragement to use the Houston-built systems, which could cut emissions through reduced fuel use, Green was noncommittal.

“I think you can make the case just on the costs savings,” he said.

FlexGen, a subsidiary of Virginia Beach, Va.-based Earl Energy, initially developed its hybrid generator systems for use in battlefields, but is adapting the technology for oil field use.

The company has not announced any sales of the devices, but has an agreement to sell the systems through Holt Cat, a major distributor of Caterpillar engines, Prueher said.

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