Manufacturing industry: Extracting oil shale with microwaves

Manufacturing industry: Extracting oil shale with microwaves

Oil shale, as opposed to shale oil, has been somewhat resistant to extraction. To get at the former, high-pressure liquid is injected into a shale formation to crack fissures in it so that the oil and gas seep to the top. Oil shale is different in that it is actually organic material mixed in with shale instead of buried far beneath the surface, according to OilPrice. Current methods of extracting oil from oil shale, strip mining and steam injection, have proven to be inefficient and not environmentally friendly.

A company located in Colorado called Qmast has started to adopt an old idea of using microwaves to heat up the oil shale. The microwaves liquefy the product, which then flows to the nearby wellbore for easy extraction. The process can extract oil from up to 80 feet around a drill site.

The environmental benefits of microwave extraction are evident. The process does not use water or any chemicals that have concerned environmentalists. Microwaving the oil shale does not tear up the landscape, unlike strip mining. The cost is comparable to a conventional or a fracking well. The one hitch that might stand in the way is that microwaving an oil shale formation takes a lot of energy. However, ideas are being considered to use waste gas from the well as a power source. The company might, irony of ironies, use renewable energy sources to get at the product.

Qmast would like to conduct trials of the microwave extraction method with a goal of starting production by the end of 2017.