23 January 2008

Peak Oil: Meet the Microwave Oil Extractor

US defense contractor and electronics company Raytheon has developed oil extraction technology that may send "Peak Oil" packing, for a decade or two. At least, giant oil and gas developer Schlumberger thinks so:
Much as a microwave oven heats food, Raytheon Co.‘s (NYSE:RTN) technology relies on microwaves to generate underground heat and melt a waxy substance in the shale called kerogen so it can be converted into oil...Carbon dioxide heated and pressurized into a liquid form is then used to extract the oil from the rock and carry it to a well.

Raytheon and oil companies began exploring ways to extract oil from shale decades ago, but many efforts were shelved in the 1980s as oil prices and supplies stabilized. Some projects _ including Raytheon‘s _ were revived in recent years because of spiking prices, technological improvements and hopes of decreasing U.S. dependency on foreign oil....Most of the attention is focused on oil shale reserves scattered across U.S. federal lands in Colorado, Utah and southwest Wyoming _ an area estimated to contain up to 1.8 trillion barrels of oil trapped in shale, or three times the proven reserves of Saudi Arabia.

This technology can also be used for extracting oil from tar sands in Canada, and for extracting heavy oils.
The RF/CF combination is more economical and environmentally responsible than older oil shale extraction techniques as it uses less power, does not severely disrupt the landscape or leave behind residue that can enter groundwater supplies....For tar sands and heavy oil, the Raytheon process could yield 10 to 15 barrels of oil equivalent per barrel consumed, due to the lower heating temperatures required. When applied in tar sands, the combined RF/CF technology performs a mild upgrading in-situ, yielding an attractive light sweet crude oil. The process is “tunable”, facilitating production of various product slates.

The use of RF technology in shale processing would enable the fuel to be extracted from the earth in only one to two months. In-ground heating methods that do not employ radio waves, by contrast, require three to four years to replicate the natural conversion process.
Green Car Congress

While efforts to produce sustainable biofuels gear up, the ability to economically and cleanly produce petroleum from regional deposits should make the transition to renewable energy easier.

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