Applications of Geothermic Fuel Cells | Unconventional Energy Resources | Oil Shale

Oil Shale-mountain

Applications: Capture the Energy of the Unconventional

  • Geothermic efficiencies create compelling economics
  • Minimal environmental impacts assists in creating a cleaner extraction process
  • Produces oil, gas and green baseload electricity

Oil Shale

IEP believes that oil shale will prove to be one of the most attractive resources for deployment of Geothermic Fuel Cells. The oil shale deposits in the Piceance Creek basin are rich, extensive, and shallow meeting each requirement for optimal performance.

Initial development
Green River Formation
(Northwestern Colorado, Southwestern Wyoming and Eastern Utah) Oil shale deposits of the Green River formation underlie 17,000 square miles and contain an aggregate of two trillion barrels of oil.

Piceance Creek Basin (Colorado)
Colorado’s Piceance Creek Basin is the site of the world’s richest oil shale deposits. Estimates say more than one trillion barrels of oil exist here, averaging 15-50 gallons of oil per ton.

In-Situ Advantages
Using our in-situ GFC system is beneficial in three key ways. First, it is cleaner to operate than traditional electrical power. Second, it eliminates the need for surface retorting. Surface retorting produces both greenhouse gases and a huge waste stream of spent shale that must be disposed of properly. Our in-situ system leaves the Earth’s surface intact eliminating waste, emissions and overall inefficiencies.  Finally, the lower temperature in-situ retorting produces a premium quality, high API  oil that requires very little upgrading.

In situ Oil Shale GFC Deployment

A hexagonal array of heaters with a collection well in the center of each array is the ideal deployment of GFCs in an oil shale formation.  We expect to process 500ft of oil shale at a time, which should produce approximately 50 barrels of oil equivalent per day from each collection well.

Oil Sands/Tar Sands

Twenty trillion barrels of oil reside in oil or tar sands worldwide. The United States estimates their oil sand resources at 76 billion barrels with half of those located in Utah. Current production of oil sands is typically based on large-scale mining operations with surface extraction via strip mining. Most oil sands lie too deep for surface mining and steam injection recovery technologies are employed to reach deeper tar sands. However, this now-dated technology involves burning natural gas to provide the process heat whereas our in-situ Geothermic Fuel Cell system uses its own waste heat to provide the process heat.

Enhanced Conventional Oil Recovery

Unrecovered oil left in place after primary extraction amounts to 300 billion barrels in the U.S. alone. Average primary recovery rates for all oil fields are typically only 30 – 35%. IEP believes our Geothermic Fuel Cell system can dramatically increase stranded oil recovery from existing and shut-in oil fields. Heating oil-bearing formations will significantly increase oil yield by decreasing the oil’s surface tension to more easily extract it from porous rock formations where primary drill and pump recovery is not economically or technically viable. Geothermic fuel cell heaters have the potential to increase recovery rates to more than 85%.

Heavy Oil

Heavy oil occurs in global abundance exceeding conventional oil supplies by a factor of ten. However, the viscosity of this oil is so high that only 20% of it can easily be recovered from a deposit. The balance is too thick to flow to the surface. In-situ heating of heavy oils lowers their viscosity making it easier to recover for production of refined oil products. At temperatures of approximately 500 degrees F. (260 deg. C.), longer chain hydrocarbons break down within the formation to create a lower viscosity oil that allows the heavy oil to flow more freely. In-situ upgrading not only increases resource recovery and production rates, but also produces a higher value product that is easier to transport and refine.

Future Applications

Diatomite Formations

Diatomite and other impermeable formations hold a third of the world’s petroleum resources. Unlike normal oil sands, diatomites are composed of diatomaceous earth – the mass is composed of trillions of single celled sea creatures called diatoms. Despite their relative abundance, however, diatomites contribute little to the world oil supply. The problem is that even though they are very porous, diatomites are typically impermeable—somewhat like a Styrofoam cup.

The Belridge Field could be an optimal location for an initial field demonstration project. Stimulating this field with Geothermic Fuel Cells could deliver a new source of oil comparable to Alaska’s North Slope. Abundant infrastructure is in place, experimental procedures are common there, and in-situ heating already has a positive track record at that location.

Environmental Clean-up

Soils and aquifers contaminated with PCBs, petroleum products, PAHs (polyaromatic hydrocarbons), chlorinated solvents, pesticides and other volatile organic pollutants can be thoroughly cleaned by the application of heat via thermal conduction. Our Geothermic Fuel Cell system can use the advantages of its in situ high-grade waste heat energy to raise the temperature of an entire underground contaminated zone to over 700 degrees centigrade. At such temperatures all organic pollutants are removed or destroyed. Use of Geothermic Fuel Cells would dramatically lower the cost of applying heat to contaminated formations and afford clean up of more polluted sites than is currently economically feasible.

Landfill Pyrolysis

Untapped landfills represent a huge energy source. About 80% of landfill content is organic and will ultimately decompose and emit methane and carbon dioxide gases. The breakdown of landfill organic matter can be dramatically accelerated by in situ pyrolysis created by placing Geothermic Fuel Cells deep into the landfill. The fuel cells are self-fueled by methane gas in a closed-loop system that would in turn generate clean electricity and reduce the volume of solid waste by as much as 90%.

Methane Hydrates

Methane hydrates are ices that have formed in huge quantities along the continental margins of the world’s oceans.  The hydrates occur in a peculiar form of matter that is part solid and part gas.  Water molecules form a tetrahedral cage that confines hydrogen atoms.  When the hydrates are melted, they release methane.  The total energy contained in methane hydrates is estimated to be twice that of all other hydrocarbons combined. The USGS estimates that methane hydrates off U.S. shores may contain 200 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, enough to supply domestic demand for 2000 years.

It is premature to conclude that methane hydrates will ever prove to be a practical fuel source. However, the magnitude of the resource warrants further investigation.  If methane hydrates are to be commercially developed they will likely require a form of in situ application of heat.  Geothermic fuel cells could play a role in that development.