Steve Froehler looks to eliminate oilfield emissions with revolutionary solar-powered technology

Ultra energy efficient solar tech can run oil field technology even with limited daylight: meaning fewer emissions even in remote northern operations.

solar panels and pump jacks 1

In the early 2000s, Steve Froehler had just finished a long career at a large multinational oilfield equipment manufacturer. He had set up a new equipment distribution company selling solar power products to oilfield operators in Alberta. But then he started to see reliability issues. 

Reliability Issues, Limited Sunlight Hours

“We were supplying a number of traditional solar product lines but were constantly running into reliability issues with the equipment,” says Froehler, founder and owner of Calgary-based LCO Technologies.

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One of the issues was providing equipment reliability to oilfield operators in areas of the province where sunlight hours are limited.

Steve Froehler, founder of LCO Technologies, found a way to improve solar reliability when used to power oilfield technologies in remote areas. Photo courtesy LCO Technologies.

Solar energy is used in many oilfield operations to provide power to equipment like pumps and compressors. It’s an elegant solution that reduces emissions compared to diesel or gas and can provide power to remote locations far from the electrical grid. But there’s a problem.

Where There’s a Problem, There’s a Solution

“The use of solar becomes problematic as you move further North, because of fewer daylight hours in the winter—where there’s highest industry demand for chemical injection. I knew the only way to get producers to use solar technology would be to make sure it was absolutely reliable in these conditions,” Froehler explains.

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That was enough to inspire Froehler, who’s an instrumentation mechanic by training who sees problems as an opportunity, to find a solution. He put pen to paper in 2010 to come up with his own answer to the problem of solar reliability in remote, northern oil and gas operations.

The Key is Efficiency

The key was efficiency. In areas where sunlight is limited, the platform needed to utilize the solar energy that is present as efficiently as possible.

What gradually emerged was an ultra-efficient technology platform, called the Crossfire. Using a common controller and motor, it could be easily configured as a chemical injection pump or instrument air compressor. It would be extremely energy efficient, enabling it to run for weeks, instead of days, in areas with limited sunlight.  And using solar power, it would help to reduce or eliminate methane emissions from traditional pneumatic instruments.

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Workers install LCO equipment designed to increase efficiency while reducing or eliminating methane emissions associated with traditional pneumatic instruments. Photo courtesy LCO Technologies.

With this concept, Froehler was on his way, working with a small team of automation and software engineers to research and develop the technology.

Creating a Viable, Marketable Product

“We took slow, steady steps to ensure we had a viable, marketable product. At every step, we asked customers: ‘Is this something you would use?’ And everyone kept giving us positive feedback,” Froehler says of the Crossfire technology, which was launched in Canada in 2015 following CSA product approval.

One of those customers was Husky Energy (now Cenovus Energy), which was looking for a highly reliable technology to operate its well sites on less solar power. In 2018, LCO Technologies was invited to trial the Crossfire at Husky’s oil-water separator facility near Edson, Alberta. Once installed, the system was soon running chemical injection and instrument air compressor equipment at the site on less than one amp of power.

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“The site happens to be in an area that’s extremely difficult to operate solar, because of the number of cloud-covered days.  But we were able to run the entire site for weeks at a stretch, with zero downtime,” Froehler says.

Successful Field Deployment

On the strength of this trial, Husky agreed to adopt the equipment at other locations in the province. LCO Technologies also received the 2018 Commercialization of SME Technology Award from Petroleum Technology Alliance Canada (PTAC) for the successful field deployment.  Since then, the company has not looked back.

Canadian cleantech: The CROSSFIRE is an ultra-low power device that can be configured as either a chemical injection pump or instrument air compressor. Photo courtesy LCO Technologies.

It’s continued to refine the Crossfire system. The technology has been adapted for other applications, including capturing vent gas from tanks.  Enhancements to the controller now enable operators to track and store equipment data to quantify emissions reductions for future carbon credits.

“We’ve been able to demonstrate that a single Crossfire can replace four pneumatic pumps. In so doing, we’re eliminating 460 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent at each wellsite, while using very little power,” Froehler says.

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The Crossfire Today

Today the Crossfire has been adopted by about 40 large and mid-sized producers, primarily in northwest Alberta and northeast British Columbia. These include Cenovus, Canadian Natural Resources and ARC Resources.  

As the technology’s reputation continues to grow and thanks to a strong distribution partnership with Spartan Controls, Froehler says equipment sales have been “crazy busy”, up 400 per cent in the last year alone.  LCO Technologies, which employs five full-time staff and four consulting engineers, has begun marketing its technology south of the border. 

This success is a dream come true for Froehler, who’s been a self-described “oil and gas guy” all his life.

“We’re here to revolutionize the oil and gas industry with our equipment, and we’re looking to scale up to take this Canadian technology worldwide.”