A senior researcher at Saudi Aramco’s Exploration and Petroleum Engineering Center – Advanced Research Center’s (EXPEC ARC) – was picking dates from a palm tree in his garden in Dhahran in September 2015 when he was inspired by the idea that the leftover seeds could be a possible alternative to the nutshells that were commonly used to manufacture drilling fluid products.
The next morning, the center designed a plan to implement the tests which lead to a new technology to fill porous areas that cause the loss of oil drilling fluids.
This would achieve Aramco’s objectives by increasing the effectiveness of the program’s goals to enhance the overall value-added of the supply sector within Saudi Arabia, increase national technical expertise and create jobs.
This gardening pastime triggered the researcher’s inherent curiosity to examine the use of various waste components of the date palm tree — pruning waste, leaflets, fruits caps, and deceased date trees.
At the EXPEC ARC lab, the testing went better than the researcher could have expected as the date seeds revealed properties that met, and even exceeded, the imported nutshells.
According to EXPEC, additional local sources were researched to expand preliminary tests, leading to the Date Research Institute in al-Hasa.
The institute arranged for a visit by the researcher’s team, during which it gathered various date seeds from different types of trees and regions to replicate and broaden the testing phase.
The team discovered that all varieties of date seeds fell into a tight range of mechanical properties — all of which were suitable for manufacturing a new product.
Based on such early work, a patent was filed to protect the idea for future development as a potential business.
The first test showed remarkable performance and determined that the compound effectively seals rock formations in oil and gas wells while drilling and was, therefore, the start of the official journey of ARC Plug development.
After reviewing the technology, the team identified local strategic partners to process and produce date seeds in bulk according to the required particle sizes and specifications.
After that, it was time for the new product to see light outside the laboratory.
EXPEC researchers worked closely with competent drilling engineers and drilling fluid specialists to identify potential oil wells with conditions applicable for ARC Plug.
After selecting three wells, it was time for the phase of pumping this “valuable” material downhole.