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Consortium of partners opens unique geothermal technology innovation lab in the Netherlands

Drilling rig on site on Bergschenhoek project site, Netherlands (source: Zublin)
Alexander Richter 3 Aug 2019

A former Shell technology laboratory has been transformed into a geothermal technology innovation laboratory, the Open Innovation Center for Well Technology (OIC-WT) in collaboration of TNO, TU Delft, Utrecht University, EBN, Ministry of Economic Affairs, the province of South Holland and the municipality of Rijswijk.

Companies that are directly or indirectly active in geothermal heat can use an advanced laboratory in Rijswijk in South Holland in the Netherlands since this summer. Here all facilities are present to test full scale under high pressure and temperature and to experiment with new drilling techniques and materials. The Open Innovation Center for Well Technology (OIC-WT) is partly aimed at accelerating the development of geothermal energy, an increasingly important sustainable energy source. Companies that are interested in the latest developments in the field of geothermal energy and want to test techniques or materials can contact Gert-Jan Heerens.

The lab was built by Shell at the time and is now being transferred to a consortium with knowledge partners TNO, TU Delft, Utrecht University and EBN. The Ministry of Economic Affairs, the province of South Holland and the municipality of Rijswijk are participating from the government.

In higher gear

“As a drilling company, we have a lot of R&D knowledge and installations, but the equipment in this lab is unprecedented,” says Peter de Vin, director of Huisman Geo. “That, combined with the in-depth knowledge of two universities and TNO, makes this facility an innovation center where Dutch business can take big steps to make geothermal energy a success. As far as we are concerned, things are still too slow now. We can accelerate matters here. ”

Test under extreme conditions

“That is necessary,” says Gert-Jan Heerens of TNO, “because geothermal energy plays an important role in the energy transition . It is one of the important sources within the sustainable energy supply.In the Netherlands we now produce 3.5 petajoules per year, but that should grow to 50 PJ in 2030 and at least 200 PJ in 2050. Then geothermal energy will provide around a quarter of the total heat demand in our country. Much still needs to be done when it comes to more efficient drilling. It must become more cost-effective, with increasing attention to safety. In short, many technical innovations are needed. And they can be developed and tested here under the most extreme conditions of high pressure and temperature. Full scale and full size. ”

Open innovation

Open innovation was deliberately chosen. Any interested company is welcome to use the facilities in the lab. The consortium is actively working on setting up a community; companies that work on new techniques and products not just for themselves but in collaboration with others. This creates a network of companies that are active in geothermal energy, heat storage, salt extraction, machine builders, and that supply components and materials.“You bring ideas together here. As TNO, we can, just like the universities, make the connection between scientific knowledge and practical application. In this way we achieve much more together at a much faster pace. Who knows, we might be developing techniques or devices that will soon be going around the world, “says Gert-Jan Heerens.

Impressive facilities

The facilities are impressive. On heavy foundations there are installations that cover the entire spectrum of drills in the subsurface. There is a huge drilling rig above an almost 500 meter deep well, in which new materials and techniques can be tested. There are overhead cranes everywhere, there are hydraulic presses of 300 and 400 tons, pressure vessels up to 1,000 bar, piping systems for pumping in and testing liquids. Almost all underground conditions can be realistically simulated to determine how materials and components behave at kilometers depth under high pressure or at extreme temperatures.

Open innovation for business

Companies now have access to state-of-the-art facilities that they otherwise could not possibly use.Peter de Vin: “That makes this lab really unique. In addition, the great thing about the open innovation model is that companies now do not have to invest in test facilities themselves. That is simply far too expensive and as a result potentially beautiful inventions remain unused. Even for a well-equipped company such as Huisman, this lab is a technological country in this area. We not only want to test materials, but are also interested in the data that results from this. For this I am thinking, among other things, of cooperation with companies that specialize in sensor technology.By integrating sensors in the drilling process you can drill much smarter and accurately predict when maintenance is needed. In this way you reduce costs over the entire lifespan. You will also meet entrepreneurs from other sectors here in the lab. I foresee surprising combinations and therefore innovations. ”

Broader application is key

Martin van der Hout, Secretary General of the Dutch Association of Geothermal Operators (DAGO), in which thirty geothermal companies are united: “Many techniques and expertise from other mining techniques are valuable for geothermal heat. From DAGO we went to Rijswijk for an afternoon with a group of specialists for a session with RVO and TNO.

Of course, knowledge questions about the design of a doublet go further than the experience of one operator or one contractor. We share a lot of knowledge within DAGO and that also happens between operators themselves. Rijswijk offers pre-competitive research options that are extremely valuable for geothermal energy in order to reduce costs, improve safety and reduce risks. Operators attach great importance to working together in an open environment with suppliers who can compete with each other. DAGO is happy to help geothermal energy through this lab to further success. ”

Open to students

According to Heerens, cooperation is not limited to the business world. Universities and colleges are also welcome in the open innovation center. “In the long term we have to build around seven hundred doubles for geothermal energy. Now there are not yet twenty-five. You must always maintain that after building. But there is no training for that in our country. Companies that build wells are now primarily focused on oil and gas extraction. Here students can get acquainted with the world of geothermal energy, conduct research and conduct experiments that are impossible elsewhere. That too should lead to acceleration. ”

Source: TNO