General Electric (GE) is to invest a further $10bn on its ecomagination project, which aims to improve its gas turbine efficiency and waterless fracking technology.

The company has invested $15bn in the project since 2005, and has opted to pour in further investment after initially stating that it would end the study next year.
Jeff Immelt
The products created have generated $160bn in revenue and saved $300m on water and emissions costs. Reuters reports that energy has become GE’s (NYSEGE) fastest growth area, with the company supplying equipment and services to oil, natural gas and alternative-power companies.

The new spending was announced by Chief Executive Jeff Immelt on Monday as the company looks to consolidate its position as dominant supplier of equipment and services to oil, natural gas and alternative power companies at a time when the United States undergoes an unprecedented energy boom.

It is a major indication of where the company’s priorities will be into the next decade.

The “ecoimagination” project, which was formed in 2005, is broadly focused on sustainability and other environmental issues and the lion’s share of the latest investment will be designated for energy-related projects.

“We have a very broad, long-standing commitment to energy,” said Mark Little, GE’s chief technology officer and head of global research. GE wants to boost the efficiency of its natural gas-powered turbines to 65 per cent from today’s 62 per cent. The company believes its existing research into jet engine efficiency could help significantly reach this goal, Little said.

As part of the new focus, GE will study with Norway’s Statoil how to use carbon dioxide (CO2) in hydraulic fracturing, the process commonly known as fracking which mixes more than 2 million gallons of water per well with chemicals and sand to extract oil and gas.

While CO2 fracking is not economical today, the companies hope to find a way to collect CO2 at the wellhead, recycle it, use it to frack again, then collect the CO2 and repeat the process, Little said. “Ideally, we’d have a virtuous cycle going on,” he said.

A key challenge will be to help the CO2 carry proppant, a type of sand that holds open the cracks in rock so oil and natural gas can escape, much like water does in current methods.

The company plans to study how to make wind turbine blades cheaper and more efficient through the use of different composite materials, as well as expand its “CNG In A Box” product, which lets natural gas producers compress the fuel directly at the well to be used locally in engines.

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