Custom projects manager Gary Craig

GenTex packing serious fracking heat

If you need some serious heat — say 20 million BTUs worth — GenTex Oilfield Manufacturing Inc. is now the place to call.

If you need some serious heat — say 20 million BTUs worth — GenTex Oilfield Manufacturing Inc. is now the place to call.

The Red Deer company is putting the finishing touches on a mammoth diesel-fired heater that produces nearly triple the British thermal units of its biggest heater previously. In fact, it could be the highest of its kind in the world.

Oilfield heaters are used primarily to heat the fluids needed for fracturing — or fracking — operations. As the number of fracs performed in each wellbore has increased, so has the demands on heaters, said GenTex president and general manager Garett Cupples.

Whereas heaters producing one million to 2.5 million BTUs were once common, these have grown increasingly inadequate, said Cupples.

“What people are using are two or three units.”

About two years ago, GenTex — whose biggest heater was capable of producing seven million BTUs — began contemplating a 20-million BTU unit. It enlisted the help of Tangent Design Engineering Ltd. of Calgary, which in turn placed GenTex in contact with faculty at the University of Waterloo. A graduate student from Waterloo is currently working at GenTex.

Support for the project was also provided by the National Research Council of Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program and Institute for Chemical Process and Environmental Technology, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

Fabrication and testing took place at GenTex’s shop just west of the city in Red Deer County.

“It’s been a long road,” said Cupples, describing how the company’s nearly 50 employees were busy with day-to-day operations and unable to devote their full energies to the project.

Now operational, the unit is mounted on a trailer, with a large diesel tank at one end and a combustion chamber at the other. An enclosed operator’s compartment is positioned in between.

Air and diesel fuel are injected into the chamber and ignited, with the resulting flame heating fluid as it passes through a network of coiled tubing.

In addition to heating larger volumes of fluids more quickly, the new heater is being developed to operate more efficiently and produce fewer emissions per unit of fuel than its smaller counterparts.

Cupples said GenTex will initially rent the heater out, so that its performance can be monitored. That’s likely to happen this fall, when demand for heating units will increase.

“I expect a second unit will be done close to then as well.”

The company is already getting inquiries from North America and beyond, said Cupples. Although GenTex exports about half of its products, he anticipates that demand for the new heaters will be concentrated in Canada and the United States, where large fracking operations are more common.

Heaters with a comparable BTU output are being produced in the United States, said Cupples. But these are propane-fueled, less efficient and produce more emissions than GenTex’s models, he said.

Is a 25-million BTU heater on the horizon for GenTex?

Cupples said not, pointing out that such a unit would have to be made much longer and would be more difficult to transport. Instead, GenTex will focus on enhancing the efficiency of its new heater and perhaps developing others with a 12-million or 14-million BTU output.

In addition to heaters, GenTex manufactures steamers, hot oil units, pumping equipment and other oilfield products.

The company’s origins date back to 1968, when Cupples’ father Wes founded General Hot Oil and Chemical Cleaning Ltd. in Red Deer. That company evolved into General Hot Oilers Inc., becoming GenTex in 2002 after it acquired the Texsteam Heating Division of Texas-based Dresser, Inc.

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