Interview – Stainless steel solutions for geothermal from H. Butting GmbH & Co. KG
One of the major challenges of developing mid-depth to deep geothermal projects is the aggressive nature of geothermal fluids. To make geothermal projects more competitive and sustainable, developers need pipe and material solutions that can withstand extreme temperature and pressure, as well as the corrosive compounds that are typical in geothermal systems.
In this context, ThinkGeoEnergy held an interview with Norbert Heinzle, one of the Managing Directors of stainless steel processing company H. Butting GmbH & Co KG. In this interview, Mr. Heinzle discusses what BUTTING can offer the geothermal industry and why geothermal remains an exciting, high-potential field.
Please give us a brief introduction of BUTTING, your products and services, and what you specialize on.
BUTTING is a group of companies that specialize in processing stainless steel material into different products. We have a strong focus on pipes, with a big chunk of the organization dealing with the manufacturing of welded pipes, either in the solid or the clad execution. The rest of the organization is dealing with processing pipes to fabricated goods like spools, vessels, and assemblies.
Our core competencies are material science for stainless steel to deal with corrosion and temperature, welding, non-destructive testing, and manufacturing. BUTTING has more than 60 years of experience and know-how in processing stainless steel and has developed numerous products and innovations through the years in close partnership with our clients.
Has Butting had experience in working on geothermal projects?
Absolutely, yes. BUTTING is focused on aspects of geothermal projects that require the application of stainless steel materials. This depends on the environment of the geothermal project and the wells. For instance, systems with sulfur and CO2 that typically occur in the so-called “Ring of Fire”. These areas have geothermal resources hosted by volcanic systems like Iceland, Italy, Turkey, the Philippines, Indonesia and Japan as well as in the South West of the USA.
In these areas, you can get high-temperature fluids from beneath the surface which are preferred for geothermal development. Corrosion is typically a challenge in developing geothermal in these areas. I would say the most developed region we have worked on is in California, where we have a number of case applications of our products in geothermal projects ranging from stainless steel materials to super-duplex, nickel alloys, as for example, Alloy625.
What do you think are the challenges of the geothermal industry that BUTTING is uniquely capable of addressing?
Within the Butting group, we have different business models. In the pipe business model for geothermal, BUTTING is a quality and technology leader for providing specific solutions to the market. We are focusing more on the industrial application market, where the competition is in terms of providing the best solutions and total cost of ownership rather than the best price.
We aim to add value to projects by offering better and more sustainable solutions. This applies to geothermal projects and in particular to the Salton Sea. The products we are offering in the Salton Sea are far beyond the commodity standards. These are, for example, nickel alloy casings with enhanced mechanical properties and improved tolerances for roundness and straightness with specific solutions for threading.
Our products are not competing over price with other suppliers offering the same, but are competing with alternative solutions. So we want to win projects with the value we offer and our above-standard products.
The industry is also progressing to the next generation of geothermal projects such as supercritical geothermal and ultra-deep drilling projects. Is this something that is in the horizon of planning for BUTTING?
Absolutely. We are doing R & D for different concepts of geothermal. In the Salton Sea projects, the concept is quite clear – injecting water in one borehole and extracting steam from another borehole. We are also developing products and installation services for a single-borehole approach where injection and production can be done on the same borehole. This is something that BUTTING hopes to offer in the future, especially for ultra-deep systems.
Are there any specific markets or countries that you are interested in entering? What makes these markets attractive?
As I said, the so-called Ring of Fire is attractive because you do not need to drill ultra-deep to tap into commercially viable temperatures. Although ultra-deep drilling can help in supplying geothermal power even in places like Germany and other European countries, this technology is still immature right now.
What do you think makes the geothermal industry an exciting field to work in nowadays? Where do you see it headed in a couple of years?
There is a huge demand for renewable energies, and there is no form of renewable energy that is as sustainable as geothermal. Our expectation is that the potential of geothermal energy will be used much more than in the past, when it was a very small niche. Its contribution to the overall energy supply may be limited, but nevertheless, the potential for growth of this industry is huge.
We think that if energy prices continue to increase, and technology allows more and more areas to develop geothermal, developing geothermal projects will become more commercially viable.
We agree that there is still a lot of untapped potential for geothermal, and that new technology will be key to accessing these resources. Would you like to add anything else?
I think that the more complex, deeper, and more critical geothermal projects will require different solutions. These may be new solutions that are still unknown today. But as a competent supplier to the industry for stainless steel solutions, or for any applications where corrosion and temperature are critical, BUTTING could be an interesting partner for R & D of new products and solutions, especially specific solutions for specific applications.
BUTTING offers a wide range of potential products and multiple competencies in many disciplines. This is why we are confident of our relevance to this industry.
Renewable energy is one of our core targets for our future strategy. BUTTING is active not only in geothermal but is also offering solutions for solar energy, liquid hydrogen, nuclear, fusion industry, and carbon capture. I would say that BUTTING is active in almost any known renewable energy industry.