Unconventionally Speaking

What is Net Energy Ratio or NER?

Net Energy Ratio

The Net Energy Ratio or NER of an energy technology is used to show how ‘efficient’ that technology is in terms of providing energy to society.  For example photovoltaic solar power has often been criticized due to its perceived low NER.

The NER is a ratio expressing the relationship between outside energy required to release useable energy and the useful energy itself.  In the case of some solar power this can be quite low due to the large amount of energy required to make solar devices in the first place.  For example published studies indicate it requires an input of 5600 kiloWatt hours of electricity to produce a solar panel with a power capacity of 1 kW.  In an average situation that panel would produce around 900 kWh of electricity in a year.  With a lifetime of 20 years the panel would produce 18,000 kWh.  So the ratio between the amount of energy required to make the panel and the energy it generated is 3.2.  This means the panel will produce over three times more energy than it took to manufacture it over its life time.

Conventional oil and gas historically have had high NER values, but those numbers have been falling in recent years.  According to Wikipedia, the NER for imported oil in 1990 was 35, but has since fallen to 12 in 2007.  This is largely due to the increasing proportion of heavy oils and tar sands in the imported oil mix. These alternative oil resources tend to have much lower NERs– 3 in the case of tar sands.

One of the great advantages of Geothermic Fuel Cells is that they generate net energy far more efficiently than many other technologies.  Because GFCs use energy that would otherwise be wasted to heat hydrocarbon formations our NER is around 22.

IEP has identified most if not all of the energy costs associated with manufacturing and installing GFCs to produce shale oil.  These energy costs include drilling, casing, manufacturing, shipping, installing, etc.  As shown by the graph these energy costs all add up to 8.7 billion BTU of energy.

Energy Inputs to NER

Once installed and operated the GFCs produce net energy in the forms of oil, electricity, and gas.  One well in one lift will produce a total net energy output of 200 billion BTU:
Net energy produced over life of product

Energy out compared to energy in gives us a Net Energy Ratio of 22.
Net Energy Ratio

Unconventionally Speaking

Low Carbon Emissions Technology

Carbon dioxide emissions are a matter of growing concern.   Some potential liquid fuel sources produce more carbon than others.  For example, oil from Canadian tar sands  produces 5 to 15% more green house gases than average crude oil.[i]

Despite this seemingly small difference, Shell and the Canadian government are spending $1.3 billion to sequester CO2 from tar sands at a cost of $72/ton.[ii]

Production of oil from oil shale can also produce excess green house gases compared to conventional oil.  Estimates of carbon intensity for processes like Shell’s ICP process, which uses electrical resistance heaters, produce motor fuels at an intensity of 311 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer driven, versus conventional oil’s 218 g/km.[iii]  This is a difference of almost 43% more carbon dioxide —  a major disadvantage of oil shale produced by the ICP process.

However, if shale oil is produced by the ICP insitu process, but GFCs are used instead of electrical resistance heaters, then the carbon intensity of shale oil falls to 183 g/km.[iv]  This is 16% less than conventional oil.

The huge gap between in situ production of shale oil with GFCs instead of electric heaters is due  to the “profound benefits of utilization of waste heat for retorting”.[v]    Using GFCs will allow us to produce shale oil from the world’s vast reserves of this unconventional oil stock while producing less carbon dioxide than from other sources including conventional oil.


[i] “Oil Sands, Greenhouse Gases, and US Oil Supply”, IHS CERA, (Cambridge Energy Research Associates) Cambridge, 2010.

[ii] “Shell Launches First Canadian Carbon Capture Project”, The Globe and Mail, Calgary, Nathan Vanderklippe.  Sept 5, 2012.  http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/shell-launches-first-canadian-oil-sands-carbon-capture-project/article4520968/

[iii] “Oil Shale as an Energy Resource in a CO2 Constrained World: The Concept of Electricity Production with in Situ Carbon Capture”, Energy & Fuels 2011, 25, Hiren Mulchandani and Adam R. Brandt. Table 5, p. 1639.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid. p. 1638.

Unconventionally Speaking

Unconventional Green Energy

Conventional green energy is typically produced by harnessing wind, water or solar power.  These sources are considered green because they produce practically no pollution while converting these natural energy sources into useful electricity, unlike traditional fossil fuel combustion processes.

The increase in electricity generation using solar and wind power have given rise to discussions around reliability and availability of green power and driving many power companies to provide backup capacity.  Wind and solar energy are subject to climate conditions and not always available, which make them an imperfect renewable power solution. The alternative is to reduce power consumption, or to store the energy somehow and draw from it when needed.

Our technology sidesteps many of the issues around conventional green technology by providing constant power 24/7 that is not dependent on climate conditions.  This is considered “baseload” power. The fuel cell stack uses the energy contained in natural gas to generate heat and electricity via an electrochemical process instead of combustion, resulting in the exhaust being mostly air, water and some CO2 versus nearly all noxious gases.  Further, we are able to capture the exhaust stream, preventing any CO2 emissions.  Our expectation is that 20% of the green electricty produced will be consumed by our operation, and the remaining 80% sold to the local utility as green, baseload power.  The fuel cells provide clean electricity and heat while not requiring any backup capacity.  Both the heat and the electricity are put to good use.