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U.S. firm secures $1m funding for research on high-temperature geothermal monitoring technology

Well testing at Kocaköy project, Turkey (source: Transmark)
Alexander Richter Alexander Richter 7 Aug 2018

Arkansas, U.S.-based company Ozark IC has secured a $1 million grant by the U.S. Department of Energy for the development a tool allowing the monitoring of high-temperature geothermal wells, e.g. in EGS systems.

In a release this week, U.S. Arkansas-based Ozark Integrated Circuits Inc. (Ozark IC) announced that was it selected for a $1 million grant by the U.S. Department of Energy for its Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) project, “Rugged, Long-Life Flow Monitoring for Enhanced Geothermal Systems.”

The award will enable Ozark IC to use its unique high-temperature expertise and technology to develop a system to continuously profile high-temperature geothermal wells. A geothermal production well produces fluid heated by the natural heat of the earth. Geothermal fluids may be steam or hot water and can be used for electrical power generation. Cooler, but still quite hot, geothermal fluids are used for projects such as space heating, aquaculture, snow melting, food processing, dehydration, and hot tubs and spas.

“We are a product of a research-and-development ecosystem in Arkansas, in the same lineage as Arkansas Power Electronics International, Wolfspeed and SurfTec,” said Ozark IC founder Matt Francis. “It all comes down to the University of Arkansas – the technologies and the people – that has made Northwest Arkansas a cluster for extreme environment engineering and research.”

Ozark IC has won contracts from NASA to help them develop, among other things, components for an ultraviolet imager to study the environment on Venus. They are also working the U.S. Air Force and the University of Arkansas (UA) High Density Electronics Center (HiDEC) to develop packaging and assembly systems for controls in jet engines that can operate at temperatures up to 300 degrees Celsius.

For the first time, Francis said, drillers will be able to continuously monitor temperature, pressure, flow (and other important data in the future) at many points in high-temperature – up to 400-degree Celsius – wells for thousands of hours. The Ozark IC system will be a significant improvement in geothermal drillers’ ability to continuously monitor the status of a geothermal well. It will also greatly reduce the drillers’ costs. Ozark IC expects this system to be very useful in other high-temperature markets, such as jet engine control and monitoring.

The Ozark IC system consists of a high-temperature sensor network with up to 100 silicon-carbide based Smart Node sensor modules attached to it. Each Smart Node can measure temperature, pressure and/or flow in geothermal wells. Ozark IC will be partnering with the UA under the direction of Professor Zhong Chen to develop the manufacturing capability for silicon carbide electronics in Arkansas. Ozark IC will use technology it has licensed from NASA to develop its prototype.  The flow measurement will use a special, high-temperature motor developed by another Ozark IC partner, Honeybee Robotics of Pasadena, California. The motor can also be used to generate power locally for the instruments.

The overall system can be configured by the driller to place the Smart Nodes at appropriate positions in the well and to design which measurements are to be taken by each Smart Node. The entire system is networked so that the results are all presented to the driller at the surface.

“I want to congratulate Ozark IC on this award,” said Gov. Asa Hutchinson. “The research being conducted in Arkansas is second to none. Arkansas is filled with talented individuals currently in the tech workforce with many more coming up the pipeline. I look forward to watching Ozark IC grow and prosper in the coming years.”

Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC) has been a supporter of Ozark IC for several years. The company’s original technology was developed with support of the National Science Foundation’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), and AEDC’s commercialization department has provided them with grants and incentives through the Research and Development Tax Credit Program, the Technology Development Program, and the Technology Transfer Assistance Grant Program.

“The technology being created at Ozark IC is a game changer,” said AEDC Executive Director Mike Preston. “Ozark IC is a great example of how Arkansas is preparing small companies to be giants in the world of technology.”

In all, 95 grants totaling $95 million were awarded to 80 small businesses in 26 states. The SBIR and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs were created by Congress to leverage small businesses to advance innovation at federal agencies.

Source: Company release