Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions

Confronting Climate Change: Using the energy in
oil shale without releasing carbon dioxide in a
greenhouse world

September 26, 2011

Oil shale

Oil shale could become an important energy
source in a greenhouse world of the future
thanks to a new extraction technique that
limits the release of carbon dioxide.
Credit: iStock

Summary

New technology that combines production of electricity with
capture of carbon dioxide could make billions of barrels
of oil shale — now regarded as off-limits because of the
huge amounts of carbon dioxide released in its production
— available as an energy source. That’s the conclusion
of a report on “electricity production with in situ carbon
capture” (EPICC) in ACS’ journal Energy & Fuels.

New technology that combines production of electricity with capture of carbon dioxide could make billions of barrels of oil shale — now regarded as off-limits because of the huge amounts of carbon dioxide released in its production — available as an energy source. That’s the conclusion of a report on “electricity production with in situ carbon capture” (EPICC) in ACS’ journal Energy & Fuels.

The study’s lead author is Adam Brandt, Ph.D., who is at Stanford University. Here’s what he had to say about the challenges of working with oil shale …

“Almost 3 trillion barrels of oil are trapped in the world’s deposits of oil-shale, a dark-colored rock laden with petroleum-like material. The United States has by far the world’s largest deposits in the Green River Formation, which covers parts of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. Estimates put the domestic oil shale resource at 1.2 trillion to 1.8 trillion barrels. Limiting potential use of those deposits are concerns over the large amounts of the greenhouse gases (mainly carbon dioxide) released by current methods for extracting oil from shale. That’s why we tried to find a new way to get energy from oil shale while producing lower greenhouse gas emissions.”

Brandt’s answer is EPICC — a self-fueled method that generates electricity, as well as the heat needed to produce that electricity from shale. The report describes how EPICC could generate large amounts of electricity without releasing into the atmosphere carbon dioxide from burning the shale. That carbon would be captured and stored underground as part of the production process.

Smart Chemists/Innovative Thinking

Smart chemists. Innovative thinking. That’s the key to solving global challenges of the 21st Century. Please check out more of our full-length podcasts on wide-ranging issues facing chemistry and science, such as promoting public health, developing new fuels and confronting climate change, at www.acs.org/GlobalChallenges. Today’s podcast was written by Katie Cottingham.