Exel Composites partners with Ziebel on game-changing oil well sensor

Exel Composites  has developed fiber optic-embedded carbon composite rod for Norwegian company Ziebel’sinnovative well intervention system. Exel’s expertise in carbon fiber pultrusion enabled the precision manufacture of the 15 mm diameter rod with fiber optic core, which functions as a sensor, gathering valuable real-time insight on well behaviour unattainable using conventional methods.


Improving oil recovery factors

Ziebel was founded in 2006 with the vision to become a significant contributor to increased oil recovery factors through innovative technology and solutions. In order to make informed decisions, oil drilling and completions teams need detailed information on fluid flow in and around the borehole during production or injection. Such data is usually collected using production logging tools, but this method is operationally challenging and provides limited, time- and location-specific information. Ziebel’s proprietary technology, the distributed fiber optic (DFO)-based Z-System®, is free of many of the constraints that limit conventional well logging effectiveness, offering improved understanding of well and reservoir behaviour.

At the heart of Ziebel’s Z-System is the  6.2 km long, 15 mm diameter carbon fiber rod (the Z-Rod®), which delivers multiple fiber optic cables securely into the hostile downhole environment. Typically, the rod is deployed into a producing or injecting well for 48 hours where the fiber optic sensors measure temperature and acoustic vibrations along its length. This enables a variety of applications – including flow allocation, fluid movement visualization, leak detection and stimulation fluid monitoring – which are extremely valuable for optimal well and reservoir management.

This composite-based sensing system offers further advantages. The carbon rod enables horizontal well access, since the lightweight, stiff composite rod can be ‘pushed’ from the surface into the horizontal sections frequently employed in today’s wells, which is not possible with conventional tools run on a wireline unless an electrical well tractor is employed.. In addition, the small-diameter carbon rod can access wells with restricted internal diameters and difficult geometry where other tools will not pass, it has minimal choking effect on the well, and unlike metals, it is inert to the majority of hazardous and corrosive substances found in the downhole environment.

An exceptionally robust manufacturing process

Ziebel contacted US-based carbon fibre pultrusion specialist Exel Composites (previously DSC) in 2006 to develop and manufacture the robust composite rod required to launch its fiber optic intervention technology in the oil sector.

To ensure the required combination of strength, stiffness and corrosion resistance necessary for this application, Exel selected one of its proprietary, tough epoxy resins and a specific carbon fiber selected through extensive testing to maximize mechanical performance. This resin places particularly challenging demands on the pultrusion process, since it requires a very slow cure in order to attain its optimal properties. This means that to produce each 6.2 km long rod, the pultrusion line must run continuously, without fault, for more than 3 weeks.

“Because of the high cost of both the carbon fiber and the fiber optics, the process risk is very high,” David Lewis, Exel’s Director of Technology & Business Development explains. “We’ve therefore performed extensive work to develop a pultrusion process that is extremely robust and foolproof, and exceptional process controls are in place to ensure that there are no failures.”

Ziebel and Exel have worked together to optimize a spooling technology to facilitate the handling and transport of long lengths of pultruded rod. This enables the stiff carbon fiber rod to be wound onto reels that are small enough in diameter to allow shipping from Exel’s production facilities in Erlanger, Kentucky, to Europe and the Middle East as well as within the US.  An NDT process is used to monitor rod quality, since the product is continuous it cannot be cut for inspection.

Future developments

Ziebel is committed to expanding their product portfolio, through innovations in their current Z-Rod® product, as well as other products for similar applications that will take advantage of their cutting edge fiber optic sensing and data analysis capabilities.

“We have a great deal of trust and confidence in our partners at Exel that will enable us to continue pushing the boundaries for carbon composites in the hostile downhole environments of oil & gas wells.  Our next generation of Z-Rod® will take us to operating temperatures of 350 degrees F (177C), opening up additional wells for our services,” Neil Gardner, Ziebel’s Vice President of Technology says.

Ziebel and Exel have entered an exclusive agreement to develop and produce advanced fiber optic/composite down-hole sensor rods based on Ziebel IPRs.

Finland-headquartered pultrusion group Exel Composites acquired DSC in May 2018, marking its entrance into the US market.

“We congratulate Ziebel on the successful introduction of their innovative well intervention system and we look forward to collaborating with them to further extend its application,” states Kari Loukola, SVP Exel Composites Americas and President of DSC. “This project is a clear demonstration of the capabilities in carbon pultrusion that DSC brings to the Exel group and with our combined, expanded offering we anticipate significant opportunities in the oil and gas sector and other key markets such as wind energy and aerospace.”