Project Hybrid Drilling Content Title Header Description

Principal Investigator

Prof. Martin O. Saar, ETH Zurich

Co-Principal Investigator
Dr. Edoardo Rossi, ETH Zurich
Start date

October 2016


Bundesamt für Energie (BFE)


Prof. Martin O. Saar, ETH Zurich
Prof. Philipp Rudolf von Rohr, ETH Zurich

Participating institutions



Introduction – Motivation

Fig. 1: Infrared (IR) image – CTMD drill head (Rossi et al., 2020a)

In order to meet the increasing worldwide energy and mineral resource demand in the next decades, the access to heat, oil, natural gas and minerals at significant depths, often in hard rocks, will be a key requirement. However, the construction of wells accessing ever deeper resources requires large investments, mainly due to the involved drilling operations (Tester et al., 2006). The drilling costs are shown to increase exponentially with depth and, furthermore, they occur in an early, considerably high-risk phase of the project (Tester et al., 2006; Lukawski et al., 2014). For example, the large share of drilling costs is a principal driving factor for the economic viability assessment of enhanced geothermal systems (EGSs) (Sigfusson et al., 2015; Stefansson, 1992). Indeed, drilling of deep wells into hard basement rocks represents a major challenge for conventional mechanical drilling (e.g. rotary drilling) syste

ms, featuring high rates of drill bit wear with consequent bit replacement and high non-productive time (NPT), low rates of penetration (ROP) and poor process efficiency (Fay, 1993; Diaz et al., 2017).

Hence, to improve the economic viability of utilizing deep georesources (heat, hydrocarbons or minerals), improvements on the drilling process efficiencies, particularly to drill hard, crystalline rocks, are needed. In this project, we propose to use a combined thermo-mechanical drilling (CTMD) technology to intensify the drilling process in hard rocks (Rossi et al., 2020a). This hybrid drilling technology is based on thermally-assisting conventional drilling using a flame-jet (see Figure 1), and is expected to facilitate the drilling process by increasing ROP and decreasing drill bit wear, with a consequent reduction of overall project costs. Therefore, the objectives of this project are to investigate, through laboratory and field testing, the viability and performance of the novel combined drilling technology.



  • Investigate the feasibility of a thermally-assisted drilling concept
  • Analyze the thermal cracking behavior of rocks
  • Study the rock removal mechanisms during CTMD
  • Demonstrate readiness of the technology though field testing
  • Evaluate the potential improvements in drilling performance using CTMD


Combined Thermo-Mechanical Drilling (CTMD) technology

The (CTMD) concept is based on integrating a thermal assistance, for example by a flame jet, into conventional mechanical drilling. Thereby, the following drilling modes of the CTMD technology can be distinguished: (i) The flame jet can be operated as a standalone mode to induce thermal spallation when the rock exhibits the required properties (Rauenzahn & Tester, 1989; Kant et al., 2017; Rossi et al., 2020b) for thermal spallation (thermal spallation drilling, Mode I).

Fig. 2: CTMD concept, adapted from (Rossi et al., 2020b)

(ii) Alternatively, the flame jet can provide thermal assistance to conventional, rotary drilling, by thermally weakening the rock (Rossi et al., 2018), facilitating the rock removal, performed by the drilling cutters (Rossi et al., 2020c, 2020d, 2020e) (flame-assisted rotary drilling, Mode II).

Finally (iii), CTMD allows, as a third drilling mode, the use of conventional, standalone-mechanical drilling technology, in cases, where the rock formation can be drilled with adequate performance using such a conventional method, for example, in soft rocks.

Within the CTMD concept, the second drilling mode, flame-assisted rotary drilling, is key in extending the applicability of thermal-based removal approaches to any deep drilling project. A conceptual view of the flame-assisted rotary drilling mode of the CTMD technology is given in Figure 2. The flame-assisted rotary drilling mode employs flame jets to thermally weaken the rock material, prior to the mechanical rock removal, performed by conventional drilling cutters. Drill mud is used to provide cooling to the drilling components and to transport the produced cuttings, cleaning the bottom-hole region. In order to protect the flame jets in the aqueous environment, the CTMD concept includes co-axial flows of compressed air, which are used to air-shield the heat sources, thereby increasing the heat transfer impinging on the rock surface and reducing the thermal wear of the drill bit cutters (Figure 2).





Rossi, E., Kant, M., Madonna, C., Saar, M.O., Rudolf von Rohr, Ph.: The effects of high heating rate and high temperature on the rock strength: Feasibility study of a thermally assisted drilling method. Rock Mechanics and Rock Engineering, 51(9), (2018), 2957-2964.

Rossi, E., Jamali, S., Wittig, V., Saar, M.O., Rudolf von Rohr, Ph.: A combined thermo-mechanical drilling technology for deep geothermal and hard rock reservoirs. Geothermics, 85C(101771), (2020a), 1-11.

Rossi, E., Jamali, S., Saar, M.O., Rudolf von Rohr, Ph.: Field test of a combined thermo-mechanical drilling technology. Mode I: Thermal spallation drilling. Journal of Petroleum Science and Engineering, 190(107005), (2020b), 1-14.

Rossi, E., Jamali, S., Schwarz, D., Saar, M.O., Rudolf von Rohr, Ph.: Field test of a Combined Thermo-Mechanical Drilling technology. Mode II: Flame-assisted rotary drilling. Journal of Petroleum Science and Engineering, 190(106880), (2020c), 1-12.

Rossi, E., Saar, M.O., Rudolf von Rohr, Ph.: The influence of thermal treatment on rock-bit interaction: a study of a combined thermo-mechanical drilling (CTMD) concept. Geothermal Energy, 8(16), (2020d), 1-22.

Rossi, E., Adams, B., Vogler, D., Rudolf von Rohr, Ph., Kammermann, B., Saar, M.O.: Advanced drilling technologies to improve the economics of deep geo-resource utilization. In: Applied Energy Symposium: MIT A+B, (2020e), 1-6, (in press).



Diaz, M.B., Kim, K.Y., Kang, T.-H., Shin, H.-S.: Drilling data from an en- hanced geothermal project and its pre-processing for ROP forecasting improvement. Geothermics, 72, (2017), 348-357.

Fay, H.: Practical evaluation of rock-bit wear during drilling. SPE Drilling & Completion, 8(2), (1993), 99-104.

Kant, M., Rossi, E., Madonna, C., Höser, D., Rudolf von Rohr, Ph.: A theory on thermal spalling of rocks with a focus on thermal spallation drilling. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, 122(3), (2017), 1805–1815.

Lukawski, M., Anderson, B., Augustine, C., Capuano, L.E., Beckers, K.F., Livesay, B., Tester, J.W.: Cost analysis of oil, gas and geothermal well drilling. Journal of Petroleum Science and Engineering, 118, (2014), 1-14.

Rauenzahn, R., Tester, J.: Rock failure mechanisms of flame-jet thermal spallation drilling theory and experimental testing. International Journal of Rock Mechanics and Mining Sciences and Geomechanics Abstracts, 26(5), (1989), 381-399.

Sigfusson, B., Uihlein, A.: 2015 JRC Geothermal Energy Status Report. EUR 27623 EN, (2015), p. 60.

Stefánsson, V.: Success in geothermal development. Geothermics, 21(5/6), (1992), 823-834.

Tester, J.W., Anderson, B., Batchelor, A., Blackwell, D., DiPippo, R., Drake, E., Garnish, J., Livesay, B., Moore, M.C., Nichols, K.: The Future of Geothermal Energy. Technical Report, Idaho National Laboratory, (2006).