Unused oil and gas emissions could power computing programs

Crusoe Energy Systems is deploying customized supercomputers into oil fields and using the excess gas to power energy intensive computing programs, such as blockchain processing, training AI models or machine learning (ML).

By Saïd Business School October 22, 2019

The World Bank recently estimated, in 2018, 145 billion cubic meters of gas from oil fields was ‘flared’ – burnt off into the earth’s atmosphere in a process that creates greenhouse and smog-related emissions like NOx, VOCs and CO while lighting up the night sky for many miles.

Cully Cavness, an alumnus of Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, is president of Crusoe Energy Systems – a company that has devised a unique solution to this problem. They deploy ruggedly customized supercomputers into oil fields and use the excess gas to power energy intensive computing programs, such as blockchain processing, training AI models or machine learning (ML).

“There is an environmental benefit to this process, because our power generation equipment cleans the emissions stream and also reduces natural gas flaring,” Cavness said. “This means we can offer powerful computing services, while helping the oil field clean up emissions and reduce waste.”

The idea has been a resounding success: Crusoe has already eliminated more than 35 million cubic feet of natural gas flaring, significantly reducing air emissions in three states in America.

“Building the idea into an operating business has been an incredible process. Like so many entrepreneurial stories it draws on different aspects of our backgrounds as co-founders,” said Cavness, referring to his co-founder, Chase Lochmiller. Cavness holds an undergraduate degree in geology from Middlebury College and earned an MBA at Oxford’s Saïd Business School. Lochmiller studied mathematics and physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology as an undergraduate and holds a masters degree in computer science from Stanford University.

After leaving Oxford, Cavness worked as an energy investment banker and then as Vice President of Finance at an exploration and production company where Cavness’ team drilled horizontal oil wells in an exploratory area of the Colorado plains. Through that experience, Cavness learned about the challenges associated with developing oilfields in areas with limited natural gas infrastructure as well as the oil industry’s broader challenge of gas flaring.

“Because oil is the primary value-driver for many of the shale wells in America, natural gas is sometimes viewed as an associated by-product with low value or even negative value,” explained Cavness. “this dynamic has resulted in billions of cubic feet of natural gas being flared from thousands of wells across the U.S. shale revolution.”

Meanwhile, Cavness was also pursuing a side hobby in mining bitcoin. ‘I had computers in my basement, generating all this noise and heat. My wife hated it! It made me realize just how energy intensive the demands of computing can be. So, I approached Chase, who was my friend from high school and had become an absolute expert on energy-intensive computing of various forms, and we decided to launch Crusoe.’

Cavness explained that his MBA came into play during the early days of analyzing markets and formulating a new business model: “At Oxford, I was constantly confronted with this idea of innovation and how to bring a solution or an idea from a completely different field to bear on a new industry. The Oxford program is highly entrepreneurial.”

Cully and Chase worked together to devise the company’s unique solution, which would see oil field gas turned into super computing power.

Original content can be found at Oil and Gas Engineering.

Author Bio: Saïd Business School