Scientists have developed a large-scale economic method to extract hydrogen (H2) from oil sands (natural bitumen) and oil fields. This can be used to drive hydrogen-powered vehicles, which are already sold in some countries, as well as to generate electricity; Hydrogen is considered an efficient transport fuel, similar to gasoline and diesel, but without pollution problems. The process can extract hydrogen from existing oil sands, with huge supplies in countries such as Canada and Venezuela. Scientists claim that this process can be applied to conventional oil fields, causing them to produce hydrogen instead of oil.
Hydrogen driven vehicles, including cars, buses and trains, have been in development for many years. It has been recognized that these vehicles are efficient, but the high price of extracting hydrogen from oil reserves has meant that the technology has not been economically viable. Now, a group of Canadian engineers has developed a cheap method to extract H2 from oil sands. They present this work at the Goldschmidt Geochemistry Conference in Barcelona, Spain.
"There are large deposits of oil sand in several countries, with large fields in Alberta in Canada, but also in Venezuela and other countries," said Dr. Ian Gates, of the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Calgary and Proton Technologies Inc., in a sentence.
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Oil fields, even abandoned oil fields, still contain significant amounts of oil. The researchers found that injecting oxygen into the fields raises the temperature and releases H2, which can be separated from other gases using specialized filters. Hydrogen does not exist previously in the tanks, but pumping oxygen means that the reaction to form hydrogen can take place.
Grant Strem, CEO of Proton Technologies, which markets the process, said: “This technique can extract large amounts of hydrogen while leaving carbon in the soil. When we work at the production level, we anticipate that we will be able to use the existing infrastructure and distribution chains to produce H2 between 10 and 50 cents per kilo. This means that it potentially costs a fraction of gasoline for equivalent production. "
This compares with the current costs of H2 production of around $ 2 per kilo. About 5 percent of the H2 produced then feeds the oxygen production plant, so Strem states that the system pays more than alone.
According to him, the economy of the process is favorable. What comes out of the soil is hydrogen gas, so they don't have the huge purification costs on the ground associated with oil refining: they use the soil as the reaction vessel. Taking Alberta as an example, they have the potential to supply Canada's entire electricity requirement for 330 years (Canada uses about 2.5 percent of the world's electricity, roughly the same amount as Germany, and more than France or the United Kingdom ).
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Strem argues that its initial objective is to increase the production of Canadian oil sands. However, they anticipate that most of the interest in this process will come from outside Canada, since economic and environmental implications can cause people to consider carefully whether they want to continue with conventional oil production. “The only product of this process is hydrogen, which means that the technology is effectively free of pollution and emissions. All other gases remain in the soil because they cannot pass through the hydrogen filter and reach the surface, ”he said.
“The research is highly innovative and exciting. It is an adaptation of some 1970 flood production concepts, but in tune with a modern perspective, "said Professor Brian Horsfield of the GFZ Geosciences Research Center in Germany, Potsdam." The decline in oilfield production infrastructures now he has a new life opportunity. Extensive field tests will be crucial to assess how the system works on an industrial scale and over time. ”
The technology was developed by Ian Gates and Jacky Wang as a result of an agreement between the University of Calgary and Proton Technologies Inc., which now owns the patent.
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