We talked to Ammar Alali, cofounder at Eden GeoTech about innovating geotechnology for a clean energy future and he had the following to say about it:-
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times? How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Ammar Alali: Looking back at it now, surprisingly well.
At first, I was caught off-guard, like everyone else, with the aggressive lockdown imposed by the pandemic. During the time, I was in California and could not travel to Oman, a country where we have our first groundbreaking technology piloted. It was very stressful not to know when I will be able to go back to normal life and what impact this can have on our relationship with our clients. At the same time, oil & gas prices crashed, and market conditions made it very hard to envision a healthy market for our product – this has caused a big deal of stress on my health mentally. However, looking back at it now, I think I, as an individual and cofounder, managed it well. In fact, we have managed to scale up during the pandemic.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Eden GeoTech.
Ammar Alali: By background, I’m a geophysicist. I have graduated with a BSc in Geophysics from the University of Houston, where I joined Saudi Aramco as a geophysicist for 6 years.
Over the course of those 6 years of work, I achieved his priority at that stage, which is gaining practical experience and refining the sciences through practice and application, but I found passion urging me to return to the world of research, which stimulated my mind the idea of completing his educational career to focus on a clear idea and a specific field in which he makes a remarkable difference.
In 2016, I began my journey with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as a graduate student in Geosciences. Through its rich training programs – which motivate students to start their own projects and introduce technologies capable of changing the world – the university contributed to strengthening my goals and passion for “making a difference.” Various programs and activities were offered, improving his capabilities, and gaining more experiences with each new experience.
During one of the geophysics classes, I met my cofounder Paris Smalls. At the moment, we have started to exchange ideas and talk about embarking on a new journey to reshaping the concept of the geothermal power space. Hence, the company was originally named Eden GeoPower. Next, we started to assemble a team with the mission of developing more sustainable solutions for the oil & gas and geothermal industry – changing the name to Eden GeoTech.
Since 2017, we have come along the way, raised around $1.9 million of non-dilutive and dilutive funding, signed our first $1M+ revenue-generating contract, and serving clients globally.
How does Eden GeoTech innovate?
Ammar Alali: More than five million gallons of water infused with hazardous chemicals and materials are pumped into the ground every time a well is hydraulically fractured. This is the equivalent of the volume of at least six Olympic sized swimming pools, filled with chemicals that have the capacity to contaminate local groundwater sources, cause detrimental health effects, and are strenuous to dispose of. Due to the extensive water use required, fracking becomes increasingly difficult to pursue in drought-like regions such as Texas, which unlike Pennsylvania, can’t afford to use 5.5 billion gallons of water per year on hydraulic fracturing without raising water shortage concerns.
Our solution is to replace hydraulic fracturing, which is the dominant technology utilized in subsurface extraction, with a cleaner waterless method. The Pulse Electric Reservoir Stimulation (PERS) technology we are developing utilizes electrical energy to rapidly heat a reservoir, induce thermal stresses, and ultimately cause the rock to fail. The technology’s goal is to use PERS as the future rock fracturing technology to replace hydraulic fracking. Successful deployment of our technology will assist oil, gas, and geothermal companies with meeting their environmental conservation goals. We are currently working with our first partner, Phaze Ventures, in Oman to deploy our technology. By reducing the amount of water used for fracking, we take a step towards a more sustainable future.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Ammar Alali: Team building and developing a concrete Go-To-Market strategy has been the most difficult challenge for our company. We spent hundreds of hours conducting interviews to find the right team members with the appropriate technical background and industrial experience to assist us with accelerating our technology development. Fortunately, last year we hired Dr. Mehrdad Mehrvand, who is the lead principal investigator for our technology and senior engineer. Dr. Mehrvand has been critical in leading our two new hires and assisting the company with building a strong technical team.
Our technical team was built to prepare us for going to market with partners and customers in the Middle East. Raising capital in a foreign region can be difficult at times due to different legal barriers that exist. Fortunately for us, we are developing strong relationships with outstanding partners like Phaze Ventures, who established the first venture capitalist firm in Oman. King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, one of the strongest research centers in Saudi Arabia. Our mission is to cultivate these relationships and develop new partnerships in the region to help the Gulf meet their sustainable and renewable energy goals. This will include a pivot in the next two years to geothermal energy. Our goal is to work with partners in the region to drastically increase renewable geothermal power production.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and Eden GeoTech in the future?
Ammar Alali: I run. Jogging and running are my best and only meditation to deal with street and anxiety.
When it comes to future projections, I would like to invasion the company as a technology company driving the transition toward a more sustainable planet and more efficient use of our limited resources. I also invasion myself contributing to this mission and staying true to those values.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Ammar Alali: Direct competition:
ORNL Fracking with Acoustic Energy: As reported in January 2019, Richard Hale and a team of researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Nuclear Science and Engineering Directorate investigate whether acoustic energy can be used for fracking oil and gas wells with fewer chemicals and water. However, this is a pre-R&D with no prototype and is limited in application to sedimentary rocks.
Highland Light Management’s Dry Fracture Technique: Highland Light Management, located in Maryland, won an NSF SBIR Phase I award for its project titled: Development and testing of a dry fracture technique to reduce water use, increase life cycle yield in oil and gas extraction. This technology targets “oil shale” formations of high kerogen concentrations, which have been uneconomical so far. With prices projected to stay below $100/bbl for the foreseeable future, “oil shale” is like “sand oil,” which may not be economical due to the high processing cost post-extraction.
Rocketfrac Services’ Tech for Fracturing w/ Solid Rocket Propellant: RocketFrac Services is a Canadian company that has designed technology for fracturing with solid rocket propellant, said to allow for economically efficient oil and gas recovery without the need for water or proppant. This technology is still using force for fracking the rocks, leading to induced seismicity in the area and other negative environmental impacts.
Indirect Competition: Hydraulic fracturing stimulation.
Evolution Well Services: They still do fracking at evolution well services in a traditional way. They inject abundant amounts of water, chemicals, sand, and other fluids to force big fractures in the subsurface. They are only different by using electrical pumps on the surface to drive the fluids instead of diesel-based pumps.
Schlumberger: The company manages its business through 3 segments, namely, reservoir characterization, drilling, and production. Schlumberger has 125 research and engineering facilities across the globe and conducts its business in more than 85 countries on all continents.
Halliburton: Halliburton is one of the leading service providers and product suppliers in the upstream sector of the oil & gas industry. The company provides 14 Product Service Lines (PSLs) under 2 main divisions, namely, drilling and evaluation and completion.
Our main differentiation is the technological approach and innovative method to well stimulation. Our patented technology uses electrical pulses to enhance the mobility of hydrocarbons and the directional permeability of the reservoir rock without the need for an injection of chemicals or water into the subsurface. The technology does not use force in the subsurface that might cause induced seismicity.
Your final thoughts?
Ammar Alali: Don’t be afraid to pivot. As an entrepreneur, you’re always going to face challenges navigating your industry. You are going to have to be flexible and open to trying new ideas that might be tangential to your original vision.
For example, Eden GeoTech was originally Eden GeoPower. Our primary focus was to develop a technology that could utilize the latent heat in abandoned oil and gas wells to generate renewable geothermal power. However, after one year of working on the project, we realized that it wouldn’t be economically feasible to transform the abandoned oil and gas wells, although it was technically feasible. We realized we needed to get creative and think about other technologies we could pursue to ensure the company’s future. Eventually, we came up with a novel design to insert electrodes into existing oil wells and use a passing electric current as a rock fracturing mechanism to replace hydraulic fracturing. This technology is different from our original vision but was inspired by our learnings throughout our journey. By persevering and understanding when and how to pivot, we have been able to gain significant traction, and I believe this is a skill set that all successful entrepreneurs must-have.