Technological advances are critical to increase the deep-gas component of the domestic gas supply mix, and the Department of Energy (DOE) is touting four new technologies being developed by Honeywell as part of DOE's Deep Trek research program. The new electronic drilling components are designed to enable effective finding and production of gas lying three to five miles below the earth's surface.

For decades, U.S. gas production has largely come from reservoirs found at depths of 5,000 feet or less. As those resources are being depleted, the search continues for deep-gas resources that DOE estimates total 125 Tcf. The nation's total probable gas reserves are estimated at 224 Tcf, according to the Potential Gas Committee. Deep gas has accounted for about 7% of America's gas supply in recent years, but given current gas demand growth, the National Petroleum Council estimates that this share will have to grow to 12% by 2010.

But finding and producing deep gas entails encountering temperatures that can top 400 degrees F (205 degrees C) and pressures that can exceed 10,000 psi. Such downhole conditions can disrupt or disable electronic instrumentation and other tools used to direct wells to deep gas zones and to characterize the harsh subsurface environments, DOE said. Without such instrumentation -- often delivering data in real time -- drilling becomes "challenging, very costly, slow, and often just off-target."

Deep Trek was created to develop technologies that can handle the extreme temperatures, pressures, and other harsh conditions encountered when drilling below 15,000-20,000 feet. To date, DOE has awarded eight research projects, totaling more than $16 million, under the program, almost $9 million of which is being contributed by research partners.

DOE awarded a $9.3 million cost-shared contract to Honeywell to develop four critical high-temperature electronic components for deep-gas drilling and a manufacturing process using silica-on-insulator technology capable of withstanding the temperatures encountered at those depths. A group of companies formed a joint industry partnership (JIP) to share costs and to provide product-user input for the types of electronic components and performance specifications needed.

The project has achieved significant milestones on the four key components, DOE said. It moved closer to achieving the top goal -- an electrically erasable, programmable, read-only memory (EEPROM) chip capable of withstanding the high temperatures in deep gas wells. Honeywell developed two test chips that proved that this new technology can produce circuits that will allow instructions to be written to, or read from, the EEPROM chip. The EEPROM, which is capable of retaining the data for over 1,000 hours at 225 degrees C (437 degrees F), is undergoing full-scale design and will be fabricated and tested over the coming year.

The project also successfully tested and distributed to JIP members a precision amplifier (OpAmp) that conditions data signals received from downhole sensors. The OpAmp performed well within design specifications at 300 degrees C for more than 1,000 hours and has an operating range of -50 degree C to 375 degrees C. (-58 degrees F to 707 degrees F). The project also successfully tested a field programmable semiconductor device and completed the design and fabrication of an 18-bit analog-to-digital converter (ADC) that basically converts voltage to a binary digital number.

Honeywell is designing the four components to withstand the extreme heat encountered in a deep gas well. It will be the responsibility of the end-user to provide packaging for these components that can also withstand the high pressures found at these depths.

"Successfully commercializing these 'smart well' technologies could make the difference in unlocking the potential of a critical component of America's future gas supply," DOE said in a statement.

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