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Interview – Ben Strange, CEO of geothermal drilling technology player Strada Global

Site of Strada Global's test site (source: company)
Alexander Richter 21 Oct 2020

Evolutionizing drilling technology is the key ingredient of the work done by drilling technology firm Strada Global, as we learn in this interview with Ben Strange, the CEO of the company.

Geothermal drilling tech company Strada Global have just released an animation to show how their patented Fluid Hammer Operating System works in action. I caught up with Strada’s CEO Ben Strange to find out the latest on their deep drilling technology.

How are you coping with the challenges of Covid and how has it affected your business?

It’s a good question. From the administrative side of things, it’s been quite straightforward. We operate in a digital world and we’re pretty advanced in the way that our information is shared, secured and accessible from anywhere in the world. We’re also lucky in that our primary operations at the moment are in Western Australia.

Sadly, it has affected our travel. We like to meet customers face to face, which has been a challenge over the last few months. It’s also affected life for drillers, our operators and key staff who can’t get back to see their families as often as they would like.

Drilling continues to be a key element and last but not least a cost element for geothermal project development. Over the past few years, we have heard of various technologies being explored to drill fast at lower costs and thereby “revolutionise” drilling. Could you maybe describe key elements of how technology can impact drilling times and cost?

I agree, there are a lot of new technologies being explored which all claim to revolutionise drilling. The people that are doing this alongside us are planning to use rocket science, laser beams, sonic waves and new, revolutionary technologies in their drilling. The difference with us is that we don’t see our technology as revolutionary. It’s evolutionary. We’ve simply evolved it from combining the best drilling methods to date.

We’re not sexy, we’re tried, we’re tested and we’re just a combination of the best parts of existing drilling systems, patented into a method and a technology which we feel can achieve great things. We don’t have to do twenty years of testing to know that this is the solution, because there has already been a hundred years of testing on the technology behind us.

To answer your question about how technology can impact hard rock drilling times and cost, to us it’s all about ROP. We can say that we drill a ROP of 30 foot an hour with our 12-inch hammer.

We talked about this quite extensively recently with geothermal champion Bob Metcalfe and HeatBeat, but essentially drilling faster and longer with our technology has an impact on cost because we’re on site for less days, with less tripping up and down the well to change bits. [you can read the interview at HeatBeat]

But it can also change the way projects are costed moving forwards. I’ve been very vocal about the way Strada Global is able to cost per metre as opposed to costing per day. If we start to bill for the work actually done rather than the days spent, it largely derisks the project for project developers, because they are only paying for what they get. We believe this will be a very positive move for project developers. Our role now is to demonstrate our drilling technology benefits to contracts so that they can see what we’re capable of.

If you were briefly to describe Strada’s work and technology approach, how would you explain this in layman’s terms?

At Strada, we believe that technology can solve one of the biggest challenges facing the planet today – the search for clean, renewable energy. We’re proud to be playing our part in accelerating that by developing and deploying better, more innovative and efficient drilling technology. Changing the planet and using our capacity to drill for good is the foundation and driving force behind Strada. It’s the principle everyone on our team holds to every day.

Our approach comes from our background here at Strada Global. My family’s drilling history goes back four generations and we’ve developed an extensive drilling-related patent portfolio. But it was when we saw the issues the geothermal industry faced with drilling in hard granite, we knew we had the drilling knowledge and the IP to turn the problem around and finally solve those challenges.

Our patented Fluid Hammer Operating System (FHOS) technology combines the advantages and safety aspects of the two leading drilling systems into one solution. It brings together the well control of the mud rotary system with the high penetration rates found in air hammer percussion systems and can be easily adapted to most drilling rigs.  [The company has shared an interesting animation how this works, check it out here]. It enables us to drill quickly and cost-efficiently in hard terrain, unlocking the potential of geothermal energy, anywhere on the planet.

In geothermal, we see an approach to drilling everything from shallow resources to ultra-deep resources, both hydrothermal and hot dry rock. How does Strada address the challenges of temperature and seismicity in drilling?

We’re comfortable that there really aren’t any seismic challenges caused by our drilling. Our percussion method does pulverise the rock in front of it, but in all of our experience, there has never been any risk of seismic events because of our drilling.

When it comes to the temperature challenges as you drill down, our technology is quite unique in that it can operate using a flushing fluid which cools our equipment. This includes low entropy fluids that can withstand very high temperatures, without affecting our equipment. We also use some advanced metals, coating materials and heat treatment processes on our hammers.

With these advantages, our preferred route to producing a well for heat would be to evolve into single well systems. By drilling deep and hot enough, we may not need two wells, just one. This avoids the challenges of fracturing and communicating between them, and is something we’re really forging towards.

What is Strada’s value proposition to the geothermal sector and would Strada’s technology be also attractive in the oil and gas sector?

Geothermal energy has the greatest potential of any renewable resource on the planet today. Until now, it has been one of the least used. At Strada, we’re very proud to be able to provide a proven drilling solution that can disrupt global energy markets by unlocking previously unattainable geothermal resources, anywhere in the world and can reduce time and costs by up to 70% in comparison to existing technologies.

Our technology has been developed to accelerate the clean energy transition by solving the cost and time challenges that have historically held geothermal projects back. Our mission is to benefit the planet, not damage it. One important benefit of our technology is that it can be used to convert hydrocarbon plants into renewable energy plants, by drilling down in their carpark for example to reach temperatures which can provide an alternative energy source. For sites located in coastal regions, you can also apply our system to desalination and supply millions of litres of clean water.

Earlier this year you tested your technology, could you maybe provide us a short take on the findings and how it impacts your next steps?

Thanks Alex, yes over the last year, we have worked tirelessly to bring our drilling solution from design concept to tested and proven prototype. It’s hard to express just how proud I am of our team and our technology to have achieved such a resounding success with the testing of our prototype. Our dual circulation water hammer now has a proven ability to achieve fantastic hard rock penetration rates and leading drill-bit longevity. The benefits are tangible, and its potential is backed up by the significant numbers of contract opportunities we have right now.

We’re currently in the manufacturing process of our initial hammers, ready for deployment in 2021. This includes hardware of our dual circulation water hammer, dual circulation drill pipe, drill collars, and drill stem accessories and dual circulation swivels. Our development in this phase also includes the design and manufacture of the technical interface which will allow our dual circulation drilling tools to be adapted to existing rigs.

The first of the FHOS product range will be the DCWH 120, a 12-inch hammer.

[An overview can be found in this update shared on the company’s website here.]

What is your go to market strategy? Will you act as a technology provider, service provider or license your technology?

We are developing strategic partnerships with drilling companies and acting as either a contractor or subcontractor to a project. In either case, we provide a hands on approach to the tendering process and work with both drilling companies and energy clients to make sure the project has everything it needs. The drilling companies provide the rig and we provide the technology to make it drill effectively. We are finding that a lot of drilling companies are struggling in their traditional oil and gas market, so we are more than happy to give them the tools to be profitable in geothermal.

We are not quite ready for a full-scale licencing model just yet, as we won’t have the oversight we currently need over our equipment. I wouldn’t rule it out in the future though, as we can see a huge demand and our current hands-on approach may limit our capacity to feed it.

If you were to take a bold look forward, where do you see Strada and the geothermal sector in 5-10 years from now?

We believe that unlocking geothermal energy through groundbreaking technology innovation can be the solution to the world’s clean energy needs. At Strada, we are hugely positive about the future of geothermal thanks to the advancements in innovative technology like ours. Together with progressive drilling partners and governments, we can accelerate our decarbonised future.

Our mission is certainly to see our technology deployed effectively and at scale to create maximum benefits for our planet. But along with that, we are focused on developing awareness that fully baseload ‘always on’ energy can now be accessed quickly and cost-effectively, everywhere. We’re grateful to the global organisations that are joining us in this aim to promote awareness of geothermal’s potential to deliver efficient, zero-carbon energy for the world.

 

We thank Ben for taking the time answering our questions and hope to meet as soon as we get back to a semi-normal.