Laboratory and Technology Development

The technology development staff uses the in-house laboratory and an integrated group of outside analytical facilities (partners) to characterize oil shale properties, model and experimentally verify the processing technology. We characterize the oil, gases, water, and spent ore produced by the technology and quantify the heat and mass transfer and chemical kinetics behavior of this technology. The Laboratory facility and the relationships developed with third party analytical facilities are key to the in steady improvements in our process and technology.

The Retort Compression Test (RCT) equipment on the right is used to measure mechanical behavior of ore during retorting, with geostatic loads applied to simulate the loads experienced by the ore along the depths of a tall retort. This includes settling and consolidation and resulting changes in gas permeability. The tall reactor on the left is a 500-pound reactor, used to verify scale-up from results in smaller reactors.

The initial focus of our work was on the ores and conditions encountered on our Utah leases, and on development of technology to be commercialized on these leases. However, the same tools and resources are also used to understand the related (and often very different) characteristics of other ore deposits, and to adapt our technology to those deposits in support of our licensees and prospective licensees. 

Below is a list of the analytical tools and tests that we conduct on a routine basis.

  • Modified Fischer Assay – to measure ore richness
  • Mining Intercept Optimization
  • Ore Properties
    • Ore chemistry, mineralogy, elemental composition, microstructure, organic carbon content, density, heat capacity, and moisture content
    • Raw and spent ore specific surface area, including internal porosity
  • 10-lb. Reactor Test – yield and product composition; kinetics
  • 6” x 6’ Reactor Test – direct-heat field conditions with adiabatic heat control
  • 100-lb. Reactor Test – effects of time and temperature on yield and quality
  • 500-lb. Reactor Test – samples for downstream testing
  • Retort Compression Testing – tests mechanical properties of ore, including subsidence and changes in bed permeability
  • Oil Analysis – properties and composition
  • Gas Analysis – molecular speciation
  • Spent Ore Testing – leach testing, density, total organic content
  • Containment Layer Testing – gas diffusion and permeability
  • Custom Testing – water and gas clean-up, solids handling, oil handling, ore preparation

Some of the technology development work is state-of-the-art but can be performed by outside analytical laboratories. This is primarily done within a small group of trusted partners. Examples of this work include oil analysis, Fischer Assay analysis (to determine richness), water analysis, scanning electron microscopy (SEM) of ores, and detailed chemical and mineralogical analysis of ores. Much of our development work, however, requires process simulation, which requires design, development, and operation of special equipment to create and measure all conditions and aspects of our technology. This process research is constantly evolving and is all conducted by our technology development team in our laboratory, with equipment that is designed, fabricated, constructed, and operated by our team. Some examples are described below.

The reusable capsule architecture provides an opportunity to explore a much wider range of process parameters with the preferred controlled low-temperature oxidation, direct heating, downflow embodiment. Specifically, higher heating rates, shorter process cycle times, and different processing atmospheres are more feasible with this architecture than with previously investigated single-use earthen capsules.

Several of our laboratory experimental retort systems were modified to allow exploration of this new freedom in operating parameters. Initial results indicate that it will likely be possible to produce much higher oil yields (on the order of a 20% increase in produced oil vs. earlier designs) from the same amount of ore, with higher oil density but still high-quality oil. Completed experiments have verified these results and have provided data to for improvements in efficiency and costs for the commercial reusable capsule system.