Energy for the Arctic: interview with Sergey Kurilov


The last decades have significantly changed the map of hydrocarbon reserves of our country. 400 surface hydrocarbon deposits were discovered beyond the Arctic Circle, which, according to recent estimates, store 80% of all Arctic oil. 60 of them are being mined today, the rest are yet to be developed. But harsh Arctic climate affects the operation of extracting and service companies. Not only people have to overcome low temperatures but also equipment. What modern technologies and equipment do domestic developers offer oilfield service companies for work in the Far North? We talked about this with CEO of TEEMP Sergey Kurilov.

— Sergey Vladimirovich, Russian oil and gas goes to the Arctic these days, where there are very special requirements for starters and energy storage devices. Beyond the Arctic Circle, it is a common practice, when cars idle twenty-four seven, adversely affecting the ecology and inefficiently consuming fuel and lubricants ... Because it is simply impossible to start the engine in severe frosts. What solutions does your company offer?

— TEEMP develops and manufactures energy storage systems based on supercapacitors. The prefix super- in the word "supercapacitor" is not a marketing ploy, but an established concept. It refers to a capacitor with an increased capacity that holds more energy than ordinary electrolytic capacitors.

The task of capacitors in electronics and electrical engineering is simple: to accumulate a charge and to give it away quickly at the right moment. Comparing a battery unit and a supercapacitor, it is appropriate to provide an example with vessels: liquid flows out of a bottle with a narrow neck for a long time, but there is a fast and powerful flow from a wide necked vessel. This is the supercapacitor's essence, and this is what defines its functionality. It is indispensable where it is necessary to ensure high power density.

— How can such devices be useful for extracting and oilfield service companies?

As I have already noted, the methods of using supercapacitors are determined by its main property: an ability to provide high currents. We develop specific solutions and devices based on this very logic. For oil and gas and oilfield service companies, the following two ways of using supercapacitors will be interesting: as part of start systems for various engines and for dealing with issues related to the power supply quality assurance.

Let's begin with the engine start. These days, many companies are working in the northern fields, where heavy wheeled and tracked vehicles are operated in the harshest conditions. The charge of standard rechargeable batteries at temperatures below minus 20°C is enough to start the engine starting heater, but the energy may be insufficient for starting the ICE starter, where currents can reach values of 1200A. Under these conditions, either the equipment is simply not shut down, thus multiplying the fuel consumption, or its start turns into many hours of “beating around the bush.”

In this case we recommend using a supercapacitor module. It fully takes on the start load and provides a comfortable operation for the battery, thereby reducing the fuel consumption and increasing the operational readiness of the equipment.

Our tests have shown the possibility of using the TEEMP supercapacitor modules for starting internal combustion engines with a capacity of up to 1,100 horsepower at temperatures as low as -60°C.

— Does this apply to all modes of transport?

In one way or other, yes. And not only to land transport. For example, in regional aviation, the imperfection of existing drives also leads to significant fuel waste. The charge of a standard lead-acid battery of legendary An-2 aircraft is enough for a single engine start. The battery is fully charged in 40 minutes of flight, while the plane can perform a local flight in 15-20 minutes. The remaining time they just do not shut down the engine — if the airfield is not equipped with the infrastructure (we are talking about local flights!). This leads to additional consumption of precious fuel, engine wear, increased transportation costs ... A supercapacitor module charges in 6 minutes. Feel the difference.

The start of diesel locomotives is a no less difficult task. There are more than 10 thousand of them in the country now. At the same time, diesel locomotives are not shut down at a temperature lower than +15°С! Firstly, it’s not a fact that the engine will start, and secondly, each engine start reduces the battery life. Having installed supercapacitors in the battery compartment, we achieved an interesting effect: the size of the locomotive's capacitor decreased, it became lighter, and there is more space in the technical zone now. Given that the supercapacitor is able to start the engine at any temperature, the locomotive fuel consumption at idle was reduced by 43%. The saving amounts to 15-17% over a year and the system payback period is 1.5 years. It is no surprise that our first customer was Transmashholding Corporation, which supplies start/stop systems using our supercapacitors to Russian Railways.

— All these are traditional modes of transport. What about electric cars?

The supercapacitors are now effectively used in hybrid systems, where the internal combustion engine is combined with a generator and a capacitor. The electric drive is running at low speeds. It provides acceleration up to 50-60 km/h, and then the ICE's turn comes. When braking, the kinetic energy is recovered and returned to the battery. This provides significant saving of fuel and reduces emissions to the atmosphere. However, due to constant charge-discharge cycles, the on-board batteries degrade rather quickly — in 2-3 years — and become unusable. But supercapacitor modules operate for 10 years in “hybrids” and, unlike batteries, do not require the temperature control, since they remain functional at temperatures as low as -65°C. In other words, a supercapacitor is the best solution for a hybrid vehicle.

When it comes to practice, I can give an example that is about to enter the picture. In Minsk, together with the Belkommunmash company, we are putting into trial operation a hybrid bus operating on our supercapacitors. This will allow to confirm their benefits in practice.

— It turns out that supercapacitors have already found their use in transport. What about networks and voltage drops?

Yes, starting special equipment is not the only way to use supercapacitors. Let me remind you that a supercapacitor is able to instantly release the stored charge, that is, to respond quickly to the need for energy.

A voltage drop in the network even by 10-15% often leads to the equipment malfunction. Moreover, the existing systems, for example, uninterruptible power supplies, are not always effective. They are based on batteries, in which the accumulation and release of energy is a chemical process that takes time. A supercapacitor operates according to a different principle: the energy is stored in it physically, in the pores of the active layer. Because of this, it has less capacity than a battery, but it works much faster — in a fraction of a second. This determines the scope of its application in the network system: not instead of a battery, but coupled with it.

Let me provide an example: extractive industry companies use pump systems to maintain the reservoir pressure, and the reservoir recovery rate to a large extent depends on their operation stability. When starting powerful pumps, the voltage in the network often drops quite strongly. Therefore, there are many relatively affordable technical facilities to compensate for the decreased voltage. In particular, variable frequency drives, smooth starters, etc. But one of the best solutions is a slump compensation system based on supercapacitors. They are durable, because they do not have mechanical components and assemblies. The supercapacitors operate uninterruptedly in the most severe climatic conditions, so they can compete with today's common solutions.

There is a place for supercapacitors in the renewable energy sector. In the windpower engineering, they are used to change the inclination of blades during sudden gusts of wind. The high speed of the blades turning (i.e. the energy source power) is very important — otherwise the wind can simply break the blades. In the solar technology, supercapacitors serve as power buffers for smoothing peaks and drops in activity. The irregularity of sunlight in cloudy weather leads to the fact that the active power of spaced apart modules differs. If such a pulsating mode is brought into the network, it will cause a malfunction and may lead to equipment failure. The capacitors add energy where there is a slump, and reduce it where there is a peak.

— Are there similar devices on the market?

— Yes, but, as a rule, they all operate on traditional batteries. The manufacturers specify the lower operating temperature at -40°C, but in such a cold they stop working, i.e. such devices are not intended for our conditions. Russian counterparts exist, but they are far worse in terms of general properties.

— Do you have a special technology?

— Our technology is a completely Russian development, the result of cooperation with leading research centers. The main research center operates on the basis of the Moscow Institute of Steel and Alloys; besides this, we cooperate with the Institute of High Temperatures and the Moscow State University. Our specialists have developed an electrolyte manufacturing technology that can easily withstand temperatures as low as -65°C, as confirmed by recent tests on starting a gas turbine unit using our supercapacitor. It is important to note that we have already launched the serial production and supply the products to Russian enterprises.

Thanks to the production technology of low-temperature electrolyte and special features of the supercapacitor manufacturing technology, our solutions are superior to world analogues. We have achieved electrical capacity multiple times greater than that of other Russian manufacturers and received a product that is competitive even on the world markets. This is a rare example of successful cooperation with research centers. Today we approve the R&D program for 2018-2019 and expect that we will produce devices of even higher performance.

— Are these import-substituting products?

— I would say import-surpassing.

— How much do you think we need import substitution in this segment?

— It depends on how much we need our own production of gas turbines and airplanes, as well as the development of our own oil and gas technologies. Yes, the country can exist without some energy storage technologies. But there are always nuances. For example, when implementing an ambitious project in the context of sanctions, it turns out that the 2000 Farad capacitors designed for it are manufactured in the USA and undergo strict export controls before being shipped to Russia. In this case, modular capacitors for big energetics and defense are a strategic product. In other words, supercapacitors may not be essential, but they are the basis for very many technologies.

— What are your specialists currently working on?

We are actively working to create new electrode structures and electrolytes. We clearly understand that we are involved in a difficult race, in which it is very easy to find oneself on the periphery, if you do not pay due attention to the development of new solutions. Our goal is to create a hybrid capacitor that combines the characteristics of a good battery and a supercapacitor. The energy density in such a storage device should exceed 100 W/h per kilogram and the power density should be more than 120 kW per kilogram. This is the main task of our research center, and we plan to complete this work in a maximum of 2 years.

These days, TEEMP is one of the few companies in the Russian Federation involved in serial production of current sources with really high characteristics — well up to the world standards. Serial is a very important word. You can invent the most amazing things in the laboratory, but it is much more difficult to launch their industrial production and, most importantly, to ensure its cost efficiency.

— What is the way from laboratory to industrial site?

— The industry leader, Maxwell, has an average of 1.5-2 years from the product development to its manufacturing. During this time we have included six products in the series. Tight deadlines force you to find non-standard solutions, and probably this is the reason why the launch takes less than a quarter. It should be noted that the development process includes not only laboratory research and development of a test model, but also testing, preparing technical documentation, manufacturing an experimental batch and its testing with a specific customer. Bringing development to serial production is a difficult and long process. When we talk about investments in research and development, we mean all stages from the creation of a laboratory prototype to the moment of the production launch.

— Do you plan on expanding the sales territory?

— Currently, our primary task is to fine-tune the serial production technology in such areas as transport and energetics (traditional and alternative). Then we will come to a fork in the road: we will hit the ceiling of production capacities and there will be a need to expand them. How and where exactly? The answer is obvious: where we see demand. I will be happy if such demand is provided by Russian companies.

Source: Neftegaz magazine