Flaring Fighter Powers Coronavirus Vaccine Research

Flaring Fighter Powers Coronavirus Vaccine Research
Crusoe software engineer Christian Ondaatje delivers a wellsite-based graphic processing unit that is being used to support COVID-19 research. PHOTO SOURCE: Crusoe Energy Systems

A Denver-based company that captures associated natural gas at the wellsite to power computing processes on the premises is donating a portion of its computing resources to search for a coronavirus vaccine.

“We deploy modular, mobile power generation and computing systems directly to the well pad, where we generate power from otherwise wasted flare gas and then consume the power in energy-intensive containerized computing modules,” Cully Cavness, president of Crusoe Energy Systems, told Rigzone in reference to his company’s “Digital Flare Mitigation” (DFM) system.

Crusoe’s modular and portable DFM system essentially comprises an integrated gas-fired power plant that runs an onsite server farm. The firm has deployed more than 20 of its scalable flare mitigation system wellsites in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, Colorado’s Denver-Julesburg Basin and the Bakken play in North Dakota and Montana.

Earlier this month,  Crusoe began allocating a portion of its gas-powered computing capacity to the Stanford University-based Folding@Home Consortium (FAH): a distributed computing system that life science researchers are using to simulate protein folding and target vaccines and therapeutic antibodies for COVID-19.

Cavness explained that protein folding entails simulating the interaction of virtual proteins with receptors in the human body – such as the COVID-19 spike protein with lung cell receptors.

“Protein folding allows life-science researchers to virtually model how a therapeutic agent might inhibit or prevent viral infection, for example by blocking the virus from engaging with a lung cell receptor,” he said. “There are an almost infinite number of shapes and permutations of proteins, so huge computer resources are required to model many possible combinations and interactions.”

Crusoe stated that it has configured eight of its most advanced graphic processing units and is supporting FAH’s research from its field operations center in North Dakota. After expanding network bandwidth at some of its sites, it plans to add protein folding servers to multiple flare gas-powered computing modules. Cavness pointed out that arming the consortium with extra computing power to run models is paramount.

“The faster that Folding@Home can simulate and test additional protein configurations, the faster they can hope to discover a viable therapy,” he said. “They are essentially running a supercomputing application without access to a traditional supercomputer, so a charitable network has evolved to contribute the resources on a donation basis.”

Cavness also underscored the contribution that the oil and gas industry is making to combat COVID-19 and support the health care system in general.

‘”Our hope is that the men and women of this industry take pride in knowing that their wells provide essential fuels to a life-saving network of hospitals, utilities, medical services and supply chains and can even power the search for a COVID-19 vaccine,” Cavness concluded. “Humanity’s mitigation efforts and innovation can prevail over this virus, and the energy industry has a very important role to play. In keeping with our mission to use distributed computing resources to solve real-world problems, the Crusoe team is glad to have the opportunity to support the search for a coronavirus vaccine in collaboration with the FAH protein folding consortium.”

To contact the author, email mveazey@rigzone.com.


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