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Electric motors challenge diesel for fracking pumps

15 April, 2014

The American motor manufacturer Ward Leonard has developed a line of powerful AC induction motors designed to replace the diesel engines conventionally used to power fracking (hydraulic fracturing) pumps. The rugged 2,000–6,000hp (1.5–4.5MW) motors are designed for continuous-duty operation and for use with medium-voltage VFDs (variable frequency drives).

Ward Leonard says that the motors offer higher efficiencies and smaller footprints than diesel engines and other electrical motors. They also need less maintenance than diesel engines.

“The regulatory and operational burden associated with running diesel engines is substantial and, as a result, Ward Leonard is seeing significant interest from operators and service providers in using electric power at their fracturing sites,” says Ward Leonard’s president, Michael Clute. “We believe this is an opportunity for our company to take the lead in an emerging technology that is poised for tremendous growth.”

According to Ward Leonard, electric drives offer several other benefits over diesel engines. For example:

•  the motors can be coupled directly to the fracking pump, avoiding the need for a diesel engine transmission;

•  there is no need to oversize the electric motors because there are no mechanical losses in the coupling with the pump;

•  the rated torque is delivered from a standstill through to the rated RPM, and the motors can be shut down immediately; and

•  the electric motors are cooled externally so no shutdown is needed between duty cycles.

Ward Leonard is working with a company that is pioneering the development of electrically powered fracking spreaders, and with other companies that are pursuing the transition from diesel engines to electric motors.

“These products are designed to optimise fracking pump performance, and set the standard for purpose-built fracking pump motors,” says Chris Spafford, Ward Leonard’s vice-president of sales and marketing. 

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