Industry has been using Oil Shale to make the wrong end product

Big oil and others have spent billions of dollars to exploit the potential of Oil Shale and the Kerogen it contains. Heating the kerogen under the right conditions (in a way what mother nature does for free in producing conventional crude) produces a synthetic crude. The crude would then be sent to existing refineries for processing along with other conventional and tight oil crudes to yield primarily fuels, but also some petrochemicals. These projects require tens of thousands of barrels per day to meet the processing requirements of existing refineries. Consequently these efforts have involved large mining operations, required major infrastructure and are generally capital-intensive projects.

Since the synthetic crude oil created from Kerogen is higher in contaminants, which among other issues poison the catalysts used in conventional oil refineries is has a lower value than conventional crudes. Processing this synthetic crude oil in existing refineries also results in higher emissions, lower energy efficiency and much greater use of water. Given the capital and operating costs processing synthetic crude is only economically viable under unique circumstances.

Dragon Shale processes Oil Shale into the right end products

Instead of seeing Kerogen purely in terms of a refinery feedstock, Dragon Shale first identified products that could be directly extracted. With this completed Dragon began developing the innovative process technologies required to maximise the yield of the highest value products. This approach reduces the process plant size, is considerably more environmentally responsible and has minimal demand for precious water resources. Modular plants can be sited where the oil shale richness, infrastructure constraints and environmental sensitivities align. With a smaller scale, less complex operation it becomes possible to optimize the process for the various types of oil shales found worldwide. 

For example, Dragon deliberately adjusts kerogen conversion conditions for Mahogany Zone oil shale to be different from the “natural” process. This preserves the long chain alpha-olefins and other high value petrochemicals. Further separation and treatment is then performed to obtain the high value, most in-demand products rather than commodity fuels. We do not try to “mimic” the “natural” process but completely rethink what processes to apply. Thtechnology is then adapted based on the chemical composition of the oil shale and local market conditions.  

Dragon does not look at oil shale as simply a raw material to make commodity gasoline and diesel, but as a rich mix of potential high value products. As the market share of alternative sources of energy increase, the need for fuels is expected to decline. Our studies indicate that by producing high value products oil shale will become an important, secure, cost effective and reliable source of industrially important products in the near and intermediate term. Existing oil shale projects have overlooked these high value derivative products which are unique to retorted Kerogen.

Our approach and technologies are key to finally realising the economic value of Oil Shale

Current oil shale processing technologies are focused on conversion of the organic matter in the kerogen into energy. Some by direct combustion, others by refining in conventional oil refineries. Except in unique circumstances projects based on these existing approaches have not been commercially attractive. By producing high value petrochemicals directly from the converted kerogen Dragon Shale avoids the higher costs and adverse environmental impact of the other conventional approaches to conversion of kerogen in oil shale. 

At our headquarters in Vernal, Utah we continue to research and improve our process technologies. Along with our partner, Paragon Automation we are constructing a new semi-continuous pilot scale rig based on our previous bench scale studies. This process uses a novel patent pending system employing cross flow pyrolysis with direct couple separation. The pilot plant scale equipment is being used to confirm the commercial product slate of petrochemicals. Additionally it will provide scale up data informing further work as we move to develop, construct and operate a full scale, fully continuous demonstration plant.

Our facilities are also available to process oil shale from owners of such resources worldwide.  Such testing can determine preliminary product slate and economics for the oil shales tested.  Our novel conversion device is available for this work along with spinning band distillation for precise separation of products. On-site analytical equipment including GC/MS is available to determine in detail product compositions. Through our partners and contacts in industry and academia we have access to a range of other analytical procedures. Dragon Shale welcomes opportunities to work with others in conducting specialized experimental research and development.

On-going research and development will lead to a new generation of plant

The plan is for future scale up but with plant sizes that facilitate modular construction for shipping and assembly on site at the source of the oil shale resource. 

These small modular, energy efficient, low capital cost plants producing high value products will have excellent economics. As such they should be attractive to both resource owners and manufacturers looking for low cost feedstock.  Such plants will also be much more environmentally favorable with a low carbon footprint and low impact on local infrastructure. Dragon Shale welcomes enquiries from interested parties looking to undertake commercial joint ventures and on identifying suitable oil shale resources. 

CUOS and Dragon Shale plan for full scale demonstration

Looking forward Dragon Shale plans to construct and operate a full scale demonstration plant.  So, in parallel with technology development Dragon has been looking for an ideal location for its first commercial venture. Key considerations are a high kerogen content oil shale resource which is easily accessible at or near the surface. Infrastructure including proximity to suitable roads, power, pipelines and water. Space for easy siting of process plant and facilities both during construction and operation. If possible a privately owned resource that is not subject to special scenic, endangered species or natural value reducing state and local environmental and legal considerations. Local, regional and state support in an economically depressed area was also a factor.

Taking all these considerations into account the first such project we have identified is on land privately owned by CUOS in eastern Utah. Our intention is to design, build and operate a plant with an expected lifetime of twenty years and total revenue exceeding $5B.