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Oil Shale Paper - Renewable Energy and Solar Cell Technology News

Oil Shale Paper - Renewable Energy and Solar Cell Technology News

Oil Shale Paper - Renewable Energy and Solar Cell Technology

A History of Hope The Illusive Bonanza: Oil Shale in Colorado “Pulling the Sword from the Stone” Buried beneath the ground, in Colorado and Utah, are a trillion tons of oil shale. Throughout the 20 th century, men have tried and tried again to unlock the energy contained in these rocks. To date, all efforts have failed. But every twenty or thirty years, when energy prices spike, a new attempt is mounted. The persistence is understandable: whoever unlocks this resource would capture a trillion dollar prize. But oil shale’s track record is not encouraging. The rocks are stubborn, an illusive bonanza, promising much, delivering little. Despite a century of trying and $10 billion in investment, oil shale currently provides an infinitesimal 0.0001 (or one ten-thousandth) of world energy. This paper Ancient gar, fossilized in oil shale explains why oil shale is so difficult to unlock, and why the “rock that burns” may never provide more than one percent of U.S. energy. Never, Never Land Recently, after oil prices doubled to $60 per barrel, the U.S. Department of Energy published a new report on oil shale’s promise. Sections of the report seem delirious, as if the authors were determined to illustrate that anything is possible on paper. In particular, the study claimed that we could wring “200,000 barrels a day from oil shale by 2011, 2 million barrels a day by 2020, and ultimately 10 million barrels a day.” These predictions—both the production targets and their timing—are preposterous, as some industry experts admit. Hyping oil shale is nothing new. As geologist Walter Youngquist once wrote, “Bankers won’t invest a dime in ‘organic marlstone,’ the shale’s proper name, but ‘oil shale’ is another matter.” Oil shale’s history is one of delusions leading to disappointments. Sometimes the delusions have been motivated by a stock scam, but mostly they seem to have been driven by a belief that wishing can make it so. Peter Pan would have loved the oil shale industry. According to its boosters, to make it fly “all you need is faith and trust and a little bit of pixie dust!” Hard, Black Gold? After hearing the bullish projections so often, politicians are perplexed by the lack of progress. “I find it disturbing that Utah imports oil from Canadian tar sands, even though our oil shale resource remains undeveloped,” says Utah Senator Orrin Hatch. It’s a maddening paradox. If oil shale really is “the richest fossil fuel resource on earth,” why has no nation ever produced more than 16,000 barrels a day? And if there really are “one trillion barrels of hard, black gold” in the world’s shales, why is global production declining? It’s as if we are standing in front of a treasure vault fumbling with the key. Sixty percent of the world’s oil shale is in Colorado and Utah, we know exactly where it is, and yet those states produce none. Meanwhile, Alberta is producing one million barrels per day of oil from its tar sands. What’s with that? Are we dumber than Canadians? Oil Shale and Dung Cakes Canadian production of tar sands is energy intensive—but much less so than wringing oil from rocks. Oil shale has many apologists. They suggest that technology is lacking. Energy Content of Fuels They suggest that cheap oil is to blame. Ever confident, they suggest that “its day will come, just wait.” Yet the day never comes. Why has natural gas shale failed to deliver? The primary explanation is that oil shale is a crude oil very poor fuel. Compared to the coal that launched the Industrial coal Revolution or the oil that sustains Western Civilization, oil shale is a cattle manure pathetic pretender, the dregs. When it comes to energy, quality is firewood everything. Quality can be measured in various ways—cost, municipal trash convenience, and cleanliness all matter—but energy density trumps oil shale them all. Coal seams a few feet thick are worth mining, sometimes at baked potatoes depths exceeding 1,000 feet, because coal contains lots of energy. Dense forms of energy like coal and crude oil invented prosperity; they Million BTU/ton are industrial oxygen. If coal is good, oil is better. Petroleum contains 50% more energy than the best coal, twice that of the hardest oak. There’s a lot of “grunt” in a gallon of gasoline, enough to propel a 3,000 pound car thirty miles. 0 10 20 30 40 50

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