When talking about remarkable engineers in the oil and gas field at our university, the name “Khaled Shabara” will pop up almost immediately. Khaled Shabara graduated from the University of Alexandria in 2017 with a degree in electromechanical engineering. He received two patents for his idea on transforming the harmful vibrations in the drillstring of a drilling rig to a useful source of energy, and his paper on the subject was discussed in international conferences as part of SPE’s paper contest. Eager to know more about his paper and ideas, we interviewed him and this is what we discovered.
We started the interview by asking Shabara about the subject of his paper. He told us his paper is called “Bottomhole Assembly (BHA) Smart Generator”. It is about a generator made from smart materials (i.e. piezoelectric materials), that transforms drillstring vibrations and the axial load on the drill bit to electric energy to charge the LWD (Logging While Drilling) and down hole tools’ batteries.He received two patents for his work, one for the generator itself, and the other for using the sensing ability of the piezoelectric materials to measure the radial force from the wellbore on the drillstring, which in some cases could break the drillstring. That can halt work for months until you get a company to do a fishing job using specific tools to get the broken piece of the drillstring out of the well. So, if the piezoelectric materials’ measurement of the radial force exceeds the maximum safe value, it rings an alarm prompting you to stop drilling, and check for the cause of the problem.
Growing up, Shabara had many friends working in the field of oil and gas which allowed him to know a lot about the nature of their work. By the time he was in high school, he knew he wanted to study petroleum engineering, whether it is in the University of Suez or the University of Cairo or the AUC. However, family issues prevented him from leaving Alexandria, so he got into the Faculty of Engineering-Alexandria University, electromechanical department which was the closest, in terms of future career, to his interests in petroleum services and work with LWD and MWD (Measurement while drilling). Soon after he started studying there, he was offered 26 internships in oil and gas companies. In order to graduate every student is expected to complete 8 weeks of, Shabara completed as much as one year, spending all his summer breaks doing internships. “It was a very tiring experience especially that I already had a lot of work to do in the university, more so as my studies and my interests were not aligned.” he explained. Furthermore he was a member of SPE which helped him get closer to the oil and gas field outside of the university.
When asked about how the idea of his paper came to him, his answer was really humorous. “The idea came by coincidence really, I was asleep during a Measurements and Data Acquisition lecture, and only woke up after hearing the professor say “Piezoelectric Materials”. I started laughing at the term, and was going to get kicked out from the lecture. However, the term Piezoelectric Materials stuck with me, to the point that in the final exam I only answered the piezoelectric materials question [laughs].” he answered.
Shabara was preoccupied with the issue of drillstring vibrations. If you have a water pump with a shaft that is 30 cm long, you place two bearings to dampen the vibrations.
However, a drillstring could be an unsupported 10,000 m long with very powerful drillstring vibrations, reaching several giganewton, and the only way to mitigate these vibrations is by stopping the drill and checking for the source of the problem.
This issue preoccupied him till his graduation project, which was about energy harvesting (i.e. turning wasted energy to useful energy), like how the friction from the brakes of the newer models of BMW cars are used to charge the car’s battery. His team’s supervising professor told them to brainstorm the matter, but unlike his colleges he could not come up with any ideas for a long time, which prompted his professor’s disapproval.
“One night while I was up late still brainstorming for the project, I finally made the connection between energy harvesting and the drillstring vibrations.However, before I could present this idea to my professor, there were problems within the team, so I quit from that team and joined another focusing on paper production, and decided to pursue my idea on my own, especially since my team did not have much knowledge about the oil and gas industry.” he explained.After that, he started the design and analysis of his project and had to travel to Cairo twice a week either to get materials or to get advice from professionals, as he had no supervision from the University and had to depend on himself completely. During the regional part of the paper contest held in Bahrain, he was presenting alone, while other Egyptian teams from Suez University or AUC had three supervisors at least. Moreover, when he reached the international competition in Texas, all other Universities had a dedicated fund for purchasing materials or for traveling abroad for research. “That lack of support meant that if I faced a problem, I would not sleep for days until I find the solution” he stated.
According to Shabara, it does not take someone with special qualities to work as a petroleum engineer. If you work for any of the big drilling companies like Schlumberger or Weatherford, your job is being an operator on the drilling tools. That job consists of assembling the tools and then monitoring the work flow, so the job’s physical aspect overweighs the mental one and does not require someone in the engineering field.
Out of the 14 regions of SPE, 12 of the regional winners attended the ATEC, where the technical paper has to be prsented. Many of the judges and professors from different universities were very impressed with Shabara’s paper and expected him to win. “Although I did not end up winning, I met many representatives from different universities in the conference whom offered me scholarships. One representative from the Colorado School of Mines even offered me to fund the prototype for my project and gave me the opportunity to complete my master’s degree at their university.” He commented.
Shabara is currently working as a field engineer for Halliburton, and determined to develop his career. He has also been working on a new research that he is planning to reveal in a big conference very soon.
Finally Shabara’s advice is to base ideas on industrial needs, because pure scientific papers get published but rarely used. Knowing the industry’s needs can come from your personal contacts or from contacts you get to know from SPE or through internet research. If your project is small you could self fund a prototype and try to market it to any of the oil and gas companies. Of course, the paper contest gives the opportunity for researchers as it allows the participation in important conferences around the world and meeting the industry stakeholders.