Car technology cuts oil exploration costs

Paul Boughton

Engineers at the University of Bath are working on a new £175,000 project that will help reduce the size and cost of the drilling systems used to reach oil reserves found as deep as six miles (9.5 kilometres) underground.

These advanced drilling systems allow for more efficient drilling; making it more economical to produce hard to reach oil reservoirs.

The project is being funded by InterSyn Technologies in Houston, TX, USA, which has proprietary rights to the Milner Continually Variable Transmission (MCVT) developed by UK based inventor Peter Milner before he died.

Many car manufacturers, including Audi, Honda and Nissan, have started replacing traditional automatic gear boxes with CVT technology because it is a significantly more efficient way of transmitting the power of the engine to the wheels.

In many automotive CVTs, the traditional system of gears is replaced by an ingenious pulley system that allows an infinite variability between highest and lowest gears with no discrete steps or shifts.

This means that cars with a CVT no longer have engines that ‘rev’ as the driver accelerates; they are always in the perfect ‘gear’.

InterSyn’s MCVT technology removes the need for belts and their associated control hydraulics by using a novel concept in conjunction with rolling traction components.

The MCVT is more compact than belt driven units and can be operated using ‘by-wire’ control techniques.

“For oilfield applications, CVT technology offers a number of advantages over traditional transmission methods,” said CVT expert Dr Sam Akehurst from the Powertrain & Vehicle Research Centre (PVRC) at the University of Bath.

According to Stuart Schaaf, President of InterSyn Technologies: “As the system drills through layers of rocks, the CVT provides directional control of the drilling system and allows the operator to position the oil well for optimal production of the hydrocarbons in the reservoir.

“Because the CVT is significantly smaller and simpler than traditional power transmission and control systems, the drill system as a whole can be made more cost effectively. This allows for the system to be used in a broader cross section of wells around the world.”

InterSyn has funded a £120,000 CVT test rig at the PVRC that will allow Dr Akehurst to develop computer models of the complex mechanical operations of the CVTs developed for oil drilling and then test them on InterSyn’s prototype transmissions.

InterSyn is now evaluating options for introducing the technology into various applications in other industries. The University of Bath, in conjunction with InterSyn, will also be able to offer its services for consultancy on CVT technologies to other commercial partners who may be interested in looking at the other applications for the technology, including: lawnmowers, power tools, quad bikes and cars.

The Powertrain & Vehicle Research Centre at the University of Bath is the UK’s leading centre for advanced transmission research.

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