Golden, CO - Using a laser to drill through rock has been discussed in the oil and gas industry since the development of the high-power laser. It was attempted to develop a CO2-based laser drill in the 1960s, but concluded that the technology is premature due to its size and complexity.
Related: High-power lasers in the energy industry
Ramona Graves of the Colorado School of Mines has demonstrated the potential of laser drilling by destroying a rock with advanced chemical laser, and characterized the ability of a high-power diode laser to drill through rock. There is still substantial gaps in the technology that prevents commercial development.
The innovation opened up the prospect of commercializing laser drilling was the introduction of a 10kW fiber laser by IPG Photonics. With the assistance of CSM, it started developing a laser drilling process capable of creating a commercial-grade borehole, with the supporting technology to field a laser drilling system.
The goal of this work was to demonstrate speeds for drilling through ultra-hard crystalline rock compared to a conventional drilling system, which in turn reduces the cost of drilling geothermal wells. The Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency, Energy (ARPA-E) and CSM, we have demonstrated a drilling process with a faster rate of penetration and substantial decrease in the weight on bit that ultimately leads to a longer bit lifetime.