Carbon Negative Energy Storage from Abandoned Oil Wells Might be a Win, Win, Win

August 16, 2022

Tipped off to this by a tweet from Mark Jacobson of Stanford.

Here’s the vision.
The US has millions of abandoned oil wells, many of which are leaking toxic substances and greenhouse gases like methane into air and ground water. All of them have to be capped at great expense.
In some cases the original drilling company has gone bankrupt or simply evaporated and left the wells behind.

The average well is a mile deep, 5 to nine inches wide, and has a steel casing all the way down. They are also connected to the grid by transmission lines.
Think of a winch, a weight, a wire, and a generator.
At times of low electric demand, winch the weight to the surface, set the brake, and wait. When the time of peak demand comes, allow the weight to drop, under control, down the tube, using the kinetic energy to generate power. Daisy chain a bunch of these together and be able to run them together and/or sequentially according to demand.
Voila. You’ve got yourself a carbon negative, environmentally positive, simple, mechanical and electric energy storage device, which can potentially be scaled by hundreds of thousands, potentially serving a significant portion of soaring US energy storage demand.

Below, see company co-founder Kemp Gregory pitch the idea to investors.

“We claim that we are the only net negative energy storage device,… because, we can seal up these wells, and prevent more methane from leaking than is embodied in the equivalent energy necessary to build our device. That means, for every gravity well that’s installed, it’s having a net negative impact on the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.”


8 Responses to “Carbon Negative Energy Storage from Abandoned Oil Wells Might be a Win, Win, Win”

  1. Another laughable gravity energy storage scheme — is Mark Jacobson really this dumb and delusional? Each of these wells is going to need a generator/winch plus thousands of feet of cable and have to be wired to the grid. This looks as bad as Energy Vault — can’t wait to see what Thunderf00t has to say:

    • gmrmt Says:

      Their presentation mentioned the winch/generator and the cables that each well would need. There is already grid access to these wells as that’s what powered the pump.
      I’d be more concerned with the verticality of the shaft and how the weight will bump into the sides, losing energy. Is this why they say only 20% max of wells would be suitable? I’m curious about the design features of the weight to allow it to travel smoothly up and down.
      Of course the idea ojnly has to be economic enough to compel companies to cap spent wells rather than abandon them to be worthwhile.

      • The tiny little motor that powers the bobbing pumpjack requires nothing like what’s needed for grid level storage. The actual drilling was almost certainly done with diesel equipment/generators. Thunderf00t has pulled back the curtain on how stupid these gravity storage schemes are. Even the Just Have a Think guy has started to distance himself from them:

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      Another laughable gravity energy storage scheme — is Mark Jacobson really this dumb and delusional? Each of these wells is going to need a generator/winch plus thousands of feet of cable and have to be wired to the grid.

      It’s good to be wary of the many outside-the-box proposals. That’s why you take it in steps. DARPA being involved means there’s more likely to be something learned from this project.

      This differs from the built-from-scratch block energy vault in a few important ways:

      – It addresses abandoned wells. Besides its function as energy storage, it has other value.

      – It takes advantage of existing capital investment in the form of steel-lined wells rather than building a gravity track mechanism from scratch.

      – All mass movement is in two dimensions, so many of the above-ground mechanical issues that Thunderf00t highlights are a non-issue.

      – Wells are very closely packed, and the land is open and clear, so overlaying the individual well power interfaces and connecting them to a shared power management is straightforward.

      – The site they chose has an established workforce that is already set up to install and maintain that equipment (though they’d probably need much less Lava soap).

      Cable is a major factor, to be sure, but it’s a well-understood component whose cost and handling shouldn’t introduce design or implementation surprises. The tricky part I’d think would be the design (hardware, firmware and software) of the automated controller, and the mechanism has to be much, much cheaper than their hand-made prototype. For power storage, it might soon be outstripped by second-generation electrochemical batteries like LFP or sodium-based, or it may be seen as a long-term complement to such storage.

      This does not mean that a full-scale project will be cost-effective, or if it is that it could be applied in more than a few places. As a rule, California is friendlier to such projects than most other states.

      Bakersfield, for instance, is a lot more accessible to the grid than those fields out in West Texas, and it already has onsite co-generation gas-burning power plant. It looks like an excellent place to cover with solar arrays, too.

  2. doug350 Says:

    Thanks Peter and Mark,

    This is brilliant! Solves one of my conundrums!

    With an insufficient accumulation of clean-up bond reserves collected by towns unfortunately situated in or near the oil patches of Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Wyoming, California, New Mexico, and on and on, the towns are faced with millions of abandoned wells and non-existent owners to finish the job shutting them in.

    The fly-by-night drilling and production companies sold their assets to small hollow shells operated on a purse string, and bankruptcy got them off the hook, shirking their responsibility to clean up their won messes.

    There are billions of dollars (possibly trillions) to fund the “final expenses” of the fossil fuel industry. Even if we insist “polluters must pay” they do not have cash sitting in a vault, and they don’t generate sufficient profits to fund the clean up of future shut-in wells, let alone legacy well, pipelines, filed facilities, refineries and retail “gas stations”. The global total final expenses that we the people will likely be left holding the tab for will amount to at least $6tn -$18tn just for refineries—do the math for wells.

    This potential solution sounds like it could solve the conundrum of how to finance the oil & gas final expenses without collapsing the US and global economies. This is a good first step in the right direction. Kudos to the innovative students and Mark for his tutelage.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      They’d have to bring the adapter cost wayyy down to make this feasible for onesy-twosy well sites in remote areas. They mentioned a “house, field, abandoned well, house, field, abandoned well” scenario that’s very different from the conveniently-packed large banks of wells like the Bakersfield site.

      • doug350 Says:

        What rhymeswithgoalie?

        “onesy-twosy well sites in remote areas”⁉️

        Do you have any idea how densely spaced the oil patches of Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, etc are? Google these coordinates, and zoom in and fly over the areas exploring the reality of oil field well spacing. Oklahoma and Texas are essentially a continuous swath hundreds of miles along the LA-Austin flight pattern … if you’ve ever flown Southwest Airlines LA-Austin and had a window seat, you wouldn’t have missed it. A million bare dirt well pads scroll by like a silent documentary.

        32.27625076631659, -103.7409881991829 Oklahoma
        31.0695944424835, -102.83598497031116 West Texas
        33.08320053768487, -97.14881644408159 Central Texas*
        39.88222775291464, -108.82933708542319 Colorado
        48.227970891282965, -103.70942344550664 North Dakota
        40.20313776310988, -80.33247533700545 Pennsylvania

        * One of these wells is 3,184′ from Rex Tillerson’s home. Can you find it?
        Rex Tillerson lives smack dab in the middle of a fracking oil & gas field!

        At the scale of millions, density matters, not “onesy-twosy in remote areas.”

        High density at scale exists, you just have to know where to look.

  3. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    In some cases the original drilling company has gone bankrupt or simply evaporated and left the wells behind.

    Or been spun off as a container for toxic assets while the parent company traipses away with a clean-up burden off its books.

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