A field test was performed from Sept 2006 to August 2007 and the recovery and performance exceeded expectations. The recovery factor was over 75%, energy used per barrel was 23% less than anticipated and peak production rates were better than expected.
ET Energy’s Electro Thermal technology could be used to pump out 600 billion barrels of Alberta’s oil sands bitumen. That’s more than triple the Alberta government’s best guess at what’s currently recoverable from the oil sands, and enough to satisfy total global demand for twenty years.
In coming weeks, the company will hit the road to raise $150-million to commercialize its technology.
That technology isn’t much to look at — just a few well heads and large tanks sitting on a windswept field south of Fort McMurray. A series of electrodes dangle in each well. When they are turned on, they pass a current through the earth — like electricity through a stove element — and heat it up. The result: The bitumen, which is normally locked in sand as hard as rock, begins to flow — like molasses in a microwave. No huge mines needed, no greenhouse gas-spewing steam projects required.
In a place accustomed to prying bitumen from the earth using monstrous shovels and vast quantities of steam, this pilot project is a bold attempt to reshape the environmental and financial costs of the oil sands.
In other parts of Alberta, companies are using radically different techniques: Petrobank Energy and Resources Ltd. is studying how to free bitumen using underground combustion, while Laricina Energy Ltd. is mixing steam with solvents, which dramatically cuts the amount of natural gas used to extract bitumen from deeper oil sands. At universities and provincial research bodies, scientists are studying how microbes could be used in bitumen upgrading, and examining the effectiveness of new techniques inside specially modified medical CT scanners.
E-T has stumbled in its attempts to apply the technology to the oil sands (it has worked dozens of times in environmental remediation applications). In its second major test, it managed to produce oil from only one of four wells. Its problems ranged from electrical cables that were accidentally severed by surface equipment, to the design of its electrodes. In total, E-T has produced less than 3,000 barrels of oil.
Yet the potential prize for success is huge. E-T’s technology, for example, could help open up carbonate oil, a huge hydrocarbon resource that is so tricky to produce that virtually no one has tried. And Petrobank believes its process, which uses a controlled underground burn to intensely heat oil sands and make them flow, can be used in a huge variety of heavy oil fields around the world. Like E-T’s process, it requires virtually no water and uses dramatically less energy.
The Electro-Thermal Dynamic Stripping Process (ET-DSP™) is a patented electro-thermal technology which combines the majority of the dominant heat transfer mechanisms (electro-thermal, conduction, and convection) into an effective and environmentally benign method for heating the Athabasca oil sands. The fundamental physics for electro-thermal processes in oil sands were developed in the Applied Electromagnetic Laboratory at the University of Alberta as part of the AOSTRA University Access Program. The ET-DSP™ invention results from the use of electro-thermal methods for heating soils in the environmental industry in combination with years of thermal reservoir engineering experience in the energy industry. ET-DSP™ has achieved commercial status in the environmental industry as a technology that restores contaminated sites to useable real estate in less than six months as opposed to decades.
The electrodes are placed in a grid configuration and an extraction well is located within the center of each series of electrode wells. The spacing of the electrode wells is optimized to provide the most efficient heating of the formation. Currently configured in 1:1 E-Well (Electrode Well) to X-Well (Extraction Well) ratio, although further field testing will establish if higher ratios are more economic (ex. 2:1 or 4:1)
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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