Advanced Bit Technology

Sandia’s drilling program has traditionally focused on geothermal drilling, which is challenging because the formations are hot, hard, abrasive, corrosive and often fractured. Most of Sandia’s geothermal technology also has application to oil and gas drilling. As a national laboratory, Sandia’s drilling research plays a vital role in support of various defense programs vital to our national security. The major goals for this program are to reduce the cost of drilling and well construction by improving conventional drilling technology, and developing new and advanced drilling methods.

Technical Challenges

PDC Bit with Cavitating Nozzles

  • Develop drilling equipment designs and materials that can withstand temperatures greater than 600 degrees F, as well as drill through hard, abrasive rock.
  • Build and commercialize high temperature / high pressure electronic instruments that can withstand extreme downhole environments. These instruments are directly applicable to drilling, logging and monitoring of geothermal and deep oil and gas wells with cross-cutting applications to other industries (e.g., aerospace and automotive).
  • Develop drill bits that cut faster and last longer, thus reducing drilling time and saving money.
  • Develop new drilling systems that reduce costs, improve safety, and avoid mishaps by showing the driller a real-time picture of what’s happening downhole.
  • Develop advanced, innovative, laboratory simulation capabilities that allow the drilling environment to be reproduced in the laboratory to support development, demonstration, and qualification of new downhole tools and drilling systems.
  • Develop methods that sense, describe, and correct the problem of lost circulation, a situation in which the fluid necessary for the drilling process escapes into the surrounding rock.
  • Develop technology that allows diagnosis of sub-surface environmental conditions.
  • Develop drilling technology that allows rapid subterranean access in support of national security objectives.

Recent Technology Developments

  • Advanced bit and cutter development
  • High temperature component development
  • Advanced telemetry systems
  • Bit vibration mitigation technologies
  • Drilling advisory software
  • Computational modeling of reservoirs and geologic processes

Geothermal Energy & Drilling Technology

Geothermal energy is an abundant energy resource that comes from tapping the natural heat of molten rock deep beneath the Earth’s surface. Geothermal energy is a vast energy resource thousands of times greater than the world’s oil reserves. This energy resource would last millennia at the current rate of consumption. It is an energy resource with relatively low environmental impact that could be used to generate electricity, heat buildings, and drive industrial processes while emitting virtually no environmentally harmful gases.

Geothermal energy is an abundant energy resource that comes from tapping the natural heat of molten rock deep beneath the Earth’s surface. Geothermal energy is a vast energy resource thousands of times greater than the world’s oil reserves. This energy resource would last millennia at the current rate of consumption. It is an energy resource with relative low environmental impact that could be used to generate electricity, heat buildings, and drive industrial processes while emitting virtually no environmentally harmful gases.

More than 50 percent of a geothermal power plant’s capital cost can come from drilling and completing the well. Sandia investigates new drilling processes and tools that could make geothermal energy a practical and affordable energy source.

Reliable drilling technology is also vital to ensure access to our diminishing oil & gas reserves. These remaining hydrocarbons are often found in deep reservoirs with ever increasing downhole temperatures and pressures. Many of the challenges in oil and gas drilling are similar to those encountered in geothermal well construction.

Sandia also supports a variety of non-energy related governmental programs that require drilling research to support other national security objectives. Through a strong application-oriented R&D approach, Sandia is uniquely qualified to apply drilling technology to these applications and develop new technologies to address the challenging problems necessary to ensure our national security.