Drilling Microelectronics: Improving Drilling Operations With Microelectronic Devices Skip to main content

Downhole drilling requires planning, precision, and control. Directional navigation, performance monitoring, and real-time steering have become essential. 

Using microelectronic devices to improve drilling operations helps prevent environmental mishaps and drill malfunctions. However, the durability and lifespan demands for drill components are increasing as excursions become longer and more remote. 

That’s why City Labs is dedicated to developing effective power source solutions for microelectronics in harsh conditions and/or remote locations. 

How to Improve Drilling With Microelectronics

The most important function offered by microelectronics in the drilling industry is data collection. 

Small devices can be installed at the bottom of completed or abandoned wells to track their status. This way companies can continue to observe the performance of a well with minimal effort over long periods of time. 

Small embedded devices can also monitor everything that happens on the drill to improve techniques. 

These microelectronic devices must be up to par with the drilling equipment to survive below the surface. Here are some of the ways embedded sensors can improve drill observations. 

Monitoring Well Performance

Once a well has been established belowground, it can be difficult to keep a close watch on its performance. By leaving low-power sensors down in the well during construction, engineers can continue to monitor the status from the surface.

The sensors communicate valuable information that replaces results from constant well-testing. This data is able to be gathered more quickly and frequently by the sensors than by testers. 

LWD and MWD

Logging while drilling (LWD) and Measurement while drilling (MWD) are metrics taken by microelectronics on the drillstring during an operation. LWD is the process of tracking all different statistics, such as porosity, hole direction, acoustic waveform, pressure on the drill, etc. MWD is a type of LWD focusing specifically on the direction and movement of the drill. MWD devices measure angles at which the drill is traveling to help guide real-time piloting decisions. 

The data taken with LWD and MWD devices is communicated to the surface as it’s gathered, allowing those monitoring the drill to have a better understanding of the situation beneath them.

Measuring and Predicting ROP

ROP, or rate of penetration, refers to the speed at which a drill reaches its destination. ROP is determined by a combination of controllable factors (revolutions per minute, weight on bit, flow rate, etc.) and uncontrollable variables (surrounding porosity, unavoidable obstacles, necessary drill paths, etc.). 

Microelectronics can help track all of these metrics with LWD and MWD devices. This information allows drill teams to conduct the most efficient operation possible and increase the ROP for more potential profits.

Powering Microelectronic Devices Under the Surface

To achieve many of these feats, it is necessary to have sufficient power sources for your downhole and drilling microelectronics. All small sensors and communication devices must have some form of energy to carry out their function. External wires can be easily ripped or destroyed underground, so most drill electronics function off some sort of battery. 

City Labs has built betavoltaic power sources that can power microelectronic devices for decades. They harness kinetic energy from the radioactive decay of tritium to make electricity. The steady flow slowly charges a secondary energy storage device, which can be tapped into when power is needed. 

When deep underground, there is extreme heat and high pressure to worry about. Traditional batteries may not be able to operate as efficiently under such conditions. The City Labs nuclear batteries are built to handle these difficult environments and will not be permanently damaged or ruined by these conditions. 

Incremental Hole Drilling

As a drill moves further into the ground, the environment can change at different levels. Incremental hole drilling is a strategy used to test the ability of microelectronics—and other devices—to handle fickle conditions. Some technologies cannot withstand drastic changes and may suffer in performance. 

Temperature changes do not affect radioactive decay in the same way that they affect chemical reactions. City Labs’ batteries can operate through these environmental changes without issues, so long as the microelectronic devices they power are also prepared for the challenge. 

Benefits of Microelectronic Devices in Drilling

Rising standards in the drilling industry require more transparency as environmental groups crack down on unsafe processes. Having clear insight as to how your drills and wells work is becoming a regulatory and business necessity. Understanding how microelectronics can improve the downhole drilling experience is a vital part of investing in new technology. 

Ease and Accuracy in Downhole Reporting

Wells, especially those that have been shut down or abandoned, can be dangerous. The owners of the well are expected to make routine checks that ensure no harm—environmental or otherwise—will occur to the surroundings. 

With downhole sensors powered by betavoltaic batteries that last more than two decades, keeping track of well status becomes far more convenient. There is no concern about the battery failing in the unique, hot, and damp underground conditions. This reduces the number of times somebody must venture down a well to replace a sensor or collect the necessary information.

Improve Drill Performance

Using microelectronics to communicate with and monitor your drill underground can improve your drilling operations significantly. Small sensors can tell you the location and direction in which your drill is traveling while also revealing the surrounding contents of the underground. 

There is no need for unnecessary damage and blind searching. With the ability to precisely locate your target and steer the drill directly to it, your drill path will become as efficient as possible. 

Decrease Costs

The more efficient your drilling is, the more money you save. You will spend less money on fuel costs and have more time to extract what you are looking for. Additionally, microelectronic devices can help monitor both external and internal threats. Some could detect obstacles while others could track the internal temperature of the drill to prevent overheating. In any event, avoiding unforeseen issues can help save time and money. 

City Labs’ NanoTritium™ Betavoltaic Batteries

Our innovative new power cells can be used in almost any industry. We’ve already received many inquiries pertaining to the observation of abandoned and completed wells. Downhole drilling is another task we believe our batteries are particularly well-suited for. The harsh conditions and remote locations make for a perfect fit. 

If your communications or sensors malfunction during an operation, your whole mission could be ruined. Don’t take your chances on volatile electrochemical cells that are susceptible to extreme temperatures. 

Our tritium battery products have already been in use for more than a decade. They have performed as expected, and we are currently working on expanding their use cases. 

If you are looking for microelectronic power sources for downhole drilling or reporting instruments, contact City Labs. We are always seeking new commercial and scientific partners to further our development efforts. 

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