What are the benefits of using fuel cells in the oil field?
We believe that hydrogen is a critical energy carrier that will enable our industry to meet the dynamic needs of the increasingly urgent energy transition. The versatility of hydrogen enables oilfield operators to use transportable fuel cells in a wide range of applications. In the near future, fuel cell systems can be used to power entire drilling rigs, generate useful heat, fuel fleets for long-haul, heavy-duty transport, and more—all with zero emissions at the point of use.
Another way the fuel cell power systems benefit well construction operations is by eliminating generator noise, vibration, and maintenance. With dependable, clean, quiet power production at the rig site, operators can minimize downtime while ensuring enhanced health and safety performance for people and the environment. This technology is ideal to enable drilling in areas that are restricted today due to diesel emissions and/or diesel generator noise levels, both of which would be mitigated with a hydrogen fuel cell power solution.
In combination with technologies like Intelligent Power Management—a predictive power management system that reduces emissions, fuel consumption and engine run time on the rig—this next-generation transportable fuel cell technology promises to improve drilling performance, efficiency, and long-term sustainability.
Related: Cactus Drilling Company Reduces Emissions, Fuel Consumption, and Equipment Wear
Tell me more about the transportable fuel cell technology that’s being developed with Hyzon Motors. How will it work?
Through our JDA, we are working with Hyzon to engineer a plug-and-play fuel cell system that would meet the same horsepower and footprint specifications of a diesel generator on a high-spec North American land rig. The commercially available hydrogen fuel cells from Hyzon generate electricity through a chemical reaction between hydrogen gas and oxygen from the air—the only byproduct being pure water vapor. Multiple fuel cells can be configured in a system to achieve the required output, which is then directed to the rig’s power distribution system.
Deploying fuel cells doesn’t demand an all-or-nothing approach. While some drilling contractors and operators may choose to replace all of the rig’s generators with this carbon-free power, others may initially deploy some diesel generators alongside this plug-and-play zero-emission solution. The innovative one-for-one design allows oil and gas companies to reduce rig emissions within today’s operational constraints, and to reduce their environmental footprint in terms of air emissions and noise pollution.
What will it take to see emerging technologies like hydrogen fuel cells widely adopted by operators and drilling contractors?
As the energy industry shifts to a lower-carbon future, the widespread use of hydrogen fuel cell systems will largely be driven by ESG requirements, logistics, and economics.
As a leader in carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), Schlumberger is uniquely positioned to foster the ecosystem needed to accelerate the production of carbon-free “blue” hydrogen, ensuring it can be used as a clean, secure source of energy across a wide range of industries, including our own. Of course, hydrogen infrastructure—the close proximity of hydrogen hubs to our operations—will be key to the success of the hydrogen economy. The number of hubs is starting to grow, partly due to the growing demand for fuel cell electric heavy trucks. Additionally, conversion technologies for converting waste gas, such as flare gas, and solid waste into hydrogen fuel will also help drive down costs while bringing hydrogen closer to drilling contractors and operators.
While fuel cell technology presents an ideal solution for reducing CO2 emissions and is being deployed actively in mobility solutions such as heavy-duty trucking today, it’s still very much an emerging technology which needs to enjoy economies of scale to out-compete existing technologies. It’s up to early adopters and ambitious technology players to advance the viability of high-power fuel cells and other lower-carbon technologies at scale.