Innovation 2012

CEAS Professor Develops “Ground-Breaking” Technology

By: Lauren Koch

College of Engineering and Applied Science Distinguished Professor, Ephraim Gutmark, PhD, is helping to revolutionize the oil drilling industry across the country through his ground-breaking research and partnerships.

Ephraim Gutmark, PhD, Distinguished Professor of Aerospace Engineering and Professor of Otolaryngology at the University of Cincinnati, is working to revolutionize propulsion systems and not just above ground. His innovative approach and exceptional results underground have won him a nomination in the Cincinnati USA Innovation Awards.

Dr. Ephraim Gutmark, Professor of Aerospace Engineering and Otolaryngology

Ephraim Gutmark, Professor of Aerospace Engineering and Otolaryngology

As a public university, UC works in partnership with industry to utilize and commercialize university developed technologies, resources and knowledge. Since working for the US Navy, Gutmark has received several patents on propulsion systems. Gutmark’s 30 years of expertise in rocket and aircraft propulsion, combined with his many patents, attracted the interest of oil companies throughout the industry.

Halliburton, one of the world’s largest providers of products and services to the energy industry, partnered with Gutmark to apply his research to oil drilling, essentially bringing the oil drilling field into the 21st century.

Current technology used throughout the industry hasn’t changed much since it was created by another aerospace pioneer, Howard Hughes, nearly 80 years ago. Gutmark’s advanced research applies new aerospace technology to improve all aspects of drilling function. Through his research, Gutmark has developed a game-changing drill bit.

Halliburton’s Drilling and Formation Evaluation Division partnered with Gutmark to design and construct a simulator for down-hole hydraulics. This simulator enabled testing of the efficiency of different types of drilling operations.

He describes, “My research involves both modern computational techniques and experimental validation. During drilling operation, special fluid is injected through the drill bit at the bottom of the well. This fluid has critical importance to the drilling operation in terms of controlling the rate of penetration, maintaining the well integrity, and ensuring reliable operation.”

Gutmark has applied his expertise to develop new nozzles that withstand high erosive forces. Using aerospace technology, he designed a revolutionary nozzle configuration that enables deflecting the fluid jets to any desired angle relative to the position of the nozzle, even in the reverse direction. This enables the jets to be pointed in a direction that eliminates drill bit erosion, optimizes cooling, lubricates the bearings, stabilizes the well’s walls and generates a swirl that accelerates the removal of debris in a smooth spiraling motion. These nozzles developed by Gutmark significantly increase the drilling fluid flow rate, flow energy, and rate of penetration when compared to existing technology.

Gutmark shows the simulator for down hole hydraulics

Gutmark’s invention has tremendous impact on the efficiency of oil drilling operations. “It increases significantly the rate of penetration which means that the duration of drilling operations can be significantly reduced saving millions of dollars.  It also increases the life span of the drill bit such that breakage is avoided. When  breakage happens, the entire drilling operation stops until the broken drill bit can be extracted from the bottom of the well… causing millions of dollars damage,” says Gutmark.

The cost of an oil well depends mainly on the daily rate of drilling. Deep-water drilling rig rates can cost around $100 million for 100 days, whereas on-shore wells can range anywhere from $1 million to $15 million. Potentially, millions of dollars can be saved using Gutmark’s invention, even at a modest estimate of increase in penetration rate. He states, “For the average person it eventually results in lower cost of gas and who doesn't want that, especially now.”

Halliburton recognizes the value of Gutmark’s work at UC, and has provided additional support to further expand his research. Gutmark is expanding his work to include gas exploration and the extracting of petroleum. Gutmark’s innovations in the oil field stand to transform the energy market in the United States, making US companies more competitive relative to overseas competitors.  

Gutmark has been nominated for an Outstanding Emerging Innovation Award. The winning Nominee is a person or company working on the basic research phase of an innovation – for three years or less, pre-commercialization – that has received grant money or outside money and that demonstrates the potential for continued growth and success.

This will be the 2nd annual Cincinnati USA Innovation Awards. The Innovation Awards celebrate innovative companies and people that show how new ideas can be developed into fuel for the Tri-State’s economic engine. The program is being presented by the Business Courier, Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber and Community Partner, CincyTech. The winners will be announced at an event on April 17, 2012 and will be featured in the April 20th Business Courier print edition.