July 18, 2015

Drilling 10 times faster than ever before with hypervelocity projectiles from ram accelerators

Rocket scientist Mark Russell sees a future where humans harness the earth's energy to travel the cosmos. "Human beings will eventually be a space-faring people," says Russell. "The energy required to go out of our planet and elsewhere is substantial. We will not be using oil and gas for that."

Russell is drilling deeper than ever before in pursuit of fossil fuels. That's because his company, HyperSciences, is funded through Shell's GameChanger program. HyperSciences' product is a high-velocity projectile that Russell hopes will one day help access geothermal energy, a clean, renewable energy source that eventually could replace the oil and gas he's currently seeking.

Russell comes from an Idaho mining family that has been breaking through hard mineral deposits for generations. He and his brother, Matt, dug two 11,300-foot-deep holes, the deepest in North America. Growing up in Kellogg, Idaho, and later Spokane Valley, Russell remembers taking apart his toy airplanes and putting rockets in them.

He earned his master's in aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford and moved to the Seattle area, where he designed airplanes and spaceships for Boeing and Kistler Aerospace. He then went to work for visionary Jeff Bezos' space exploration project Blue Origin, designing a takeoff and landing vehicle that is now on display in the Museum of Flight. In aerospace, you're either working for a mega-corporation that is doing one specific thing, Russell says, "or you work for a billionaire who has their vision for where they want to take their company in 20 years."

Hypersciences is focused on developing the drilling technology, which could be licensed to key suppliers or used directly by HyperSciences to produce geothermal energy. Russell said you must dig 5 kilometers (roughly 3 miles) into the earth to do so. At that depth, rocks are hot enough without being radioactive. To transfer the energy, you use water to bring steam to the earth’s surface. From there, a turbine captures the steam and turns it into energy.

HyperSciences has received roughly $1 million in grants from Shell’s GameChanger program, which supports unproven ideas that may impact the future of energy. The next round of funding came from angel investors, including the Alliance of Angels in Spokane, W Funds, Washington Research Foundation and Seattle tech entrepreneur Mike McSherry, who most recently sold his company Swype to Nuance Communications.

Information on the Ram Accelerator for drilling from the patent

Conventional drilling and excavation techniques used for penetrating materials typically rely on mechanical bits used to cut or grind at a working face.

Described in a patent disclosure are systems and techniques for using a ram accelerator to eject one or more projectiles toward the working face of the geologic material. The ram accelerator includes a launch tube separated into multiple sections. Each of the sections is configured to hold one or more combustible gases.

Hypervelocity projectiles includes velocities greater than or equal to two kilometers per second upon ejection or exit from the ram accelerator launch tube.

Projectiles travelling at hypervelocity typically interact with the geologic material at the working face as a fluid-fluid interaction upon impact, due to the substantial kinetic energy in the projectile. This interaction forms a hole which is generally in the form of a cylinder.

During firing, the projectile passes through the diaphragm, breaking the seal, or the valve is opened prior to launch. A reel mechanism may be used to move an unused section of the diaphragm into place, restoring the seal. Other separator mechanisms such as ball valves, plates, gravity gradient, and so forth may also be used.

SOURCES- Patent, Geekwire, Inlander

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