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Wyoming startup serving oil and gas sets sights on wind market
When Bill Gillette launched LogiLube with the support of the University of Wyoming’s Technology Business Center, he had his sights set on the Rocky Mountain oil and gas industry.
He was well-placed, with strong local support, a three-decade history in engineering and a thriving industry both within Wyoming’s borders and in neighboring states. Wyoming was the fourth-largest producer of natural gas in 2015 and is currently the eighth-largest producer of crude oil in the country.
Gillette’s company developed computers that attach to field equipment, like natural gas compressors and engines, to track data in real time.
If the fine, rough particles of ash from burning natural gas or diesel fuel contaminate the oil, LogiLube’s computer would alarm the operator. If the oil was too thin, creating friction, the operator was notified. If glycol, a combustible hydrocarbon used in coolants, was leaking into the engine, the owner could log into the web tracker and see the problem.
And though the company has been well-received in the oil and gas industry, with customers in Texas and Colorado, the 2-year-old business has a new focus: wind turbines.
While oil and gas are mired in a downturn and most growth occurring in sure plays like Texas’ Permian Basin, the wind industry is attracting the likes of service businesses like LogiLube. Now, the nascent Wyoming-based company is hoping to tap a market that is not only serving the Rocky Mountain West but spreading across the U.S. and booming in Europe.
Originally LogiLube overlooked the need for its technology in the growing wind market, said Gillette, the CEO. But once it had a firm footing serving oil and gas, company officials found out their technology was in demand elsewhere.
“This whole subject of gearbox reliability is the Achilles heel of utility-scale wind turbines,” Gillette said.
There are yearly conferences on the subject, and organizations like the National Renewable Energy Laboratory have had gearbox reliability as one of their chief concerns for years, he said.
And there are more challenges to wind repair than to other industries, so early detection of issues and remote access is key.
“If you have a problem with an engine or natural gas compressor, you can send a pickup truck out with a couple of mechanics and fix it on the spot,” Gillette said.
Wind turbines, however, are hundreds of feet in the air.
“You could spend $200,000 to $300,000 to get a crane on site, just to change out a gear box,” he said.
And the industry is set to grow worldwide, the businessmen said.
In the European Union alone, there is nearly twice the number of onshore wind turbines, and the industry’s growth rate is 10 percent, he said.
“That is a whole lot more exciting than the oil and gas industry,” he said.
Though Wyoming is primarily a fossil fuel state, potential for wind growth means diversification in the Cowboy State, he added.
Rocky Mountain Power, a subsidiary of PacifiCorp, recently announced a $3.5 billion investment in Wyoming wind. The Chokecherry-Sierra Madre wind project has recently finished its permitting process for the first half of a 1,000-turbine proposed wind farm near Rawlins. LogiLube’s founder hopes his technology will be a part of those projects.
As the company tries to find a market share in wind fleets, LogiLube is also adding to its team. It announced last week that Andrew Paliszewski, formerly Siemens wind energy research development director, is joining LogiLube’s strategic advisory board.
“He will introduce us to the wind energy industry in North America and Europe and get us introduced to all the major players,” Gillette said.
The company meets next week with a large German wind producer to consider a joint venture, he added. It’s an exciting time for the small oil and gas service firm that’s looking to grow.
In addition to its new direction, the company has grown out of the UW facilities. On May 1, it secured offices for its headquarters in Laramie.