April 17, 2011 – Vol.16 No. 5
STORING RENEWABLE ELECTRICITY IN OIL.
by Bruce Mulliken, Green Energy News
Did the story title grab your attention? It should. This is something new and different. Something really innovative.
First, from the company – PyroPhase – press release:
“A new technology, radio-frequency (RF) heating, can store massive amounts of renewable energy by heating heavy oil deposits, and producing liquid fuels without CO2.”
When you see the phrase “radio-frequency” in the above sentence think microwave oven, just like that in your kitchen. (Microwave ovens are radio-frequency devices.) When you see the words “heavy oil deposits” in conjunction with energy storage you might get curious. So, a little background thoughts first:
--- Microwave ovens are very energy efficient at cooking foods. Consider this: A cooking a baked potato in a 1200 Watt toaster oven takes what, about an hour? Cooking a baked potato in a 1200 Watt microwave oven takes 6 - 8 minutes. That’s considerable energy savings.
--- Microwave ovens are instant “on - off” devices. There is no warm-up time, or any time needed to cool down. Switch the oven on it goes to work immediately. Off is off at the press of a button or the end of a timer cycle, though food may continue cooking on its own.
--- Now on to this oil as energy storage thing. This you may not know: Parabolic trough solar concentrating power plants use oil as working fluid. In these power plants the Sun’s rays are focused a pipe filled with oil. The oil filled pipe passes through a heat exchanger. The solar heat in the oil is then used to make steam which then turns a turbine generator to make electricity. Oil is used as the working fluid because it doesn’t freeze AND oil holds its heat very well, unlike water that loses heat rapidly.
Oil is used in some space heaters for the same reason. Popular portable heaters are filled with oil, not water or antifreeze, because the units will radiate heat for a long time after the unit’s heating element shuts down. The heat trapping qualities of oil make these heaters more energy efficient.
So mix the energy efficient and instant on - off qualities of microwave ovens with the heat trapping qualities of oil then a new type of energy storage may have been born.
Now, again, let me borrow a few lines from the PyroPhase press release:
“Presently wind and solar power amount to less than 2% of US total electric generation because they require costly backup plants to supply power when wind and solar are not available This method can use variable and off-peak power because it stores radio-frequency energy as heat in North America's multi-trillion barrel heavy oil formations. It converts this resource to fuel for refineries in amounts 5 times the electric energy input. The method provides a market for wind and solar power to meet a proposed goal of 20% of electric generation, while eliminating a source of CO2 emissions from fuels production.
"Because this method uses power whenever it is available, and is instantly interruptible, it stabilizes the electric grid. It compensates for fluctuations in wind and solar power input and also in users demand. This reduces the need for spinning reserves, i.e. power plants that run all the time to meet sudden load changes, and thus waste fuel.”
And a few more lifted lines from the company website:
“PyroPhase is an intellectual property company heavily engaged in the production of energy from unconventional resources. Our scientists and engineers are expert in the application of innovative technologies along with a healthy dollop of secret sauce know-how to enable otherwise inaccessible oil to be profitably extracted.
“The emphasis of our company is on the utilization of radio frequency technology to heat and recover bitumen, kerogen and heavy oil. We have two ways of doing this, one that works like a microwave oven underground (PyroPhase Array) and the other that utilizes RF skin effect heating (PyroHeater).
“We recently received a patent (7484561) for a novel method of regulating the power grid, PyroStorage. When wind, solar and other intermittent energy sources are used, the grid can endure unacceptable fluctuations. As renewables garner a bigger slice of the generation pie, storing that excess power may be impossible. Our method acts as a storage battery, but unlike other battery technologies, we return 6+ times more energy than was consumed in the first place. All this while allowing large scale renewable power generation to become viable. reducing America's dependence on foreign oil, and reducing CO2 production in unconventional resources by over 30%.”
So, simply put electricity generated from solar or wind could fire up PyroPhase’s underground microwave ovens and heat up oily substances. Heat recovery methods, such as those used in geothermal energy power plants, could turn that heat back into electricity. Or, if oil is being extracted from the ground using the same technology, heat from the extracted oil could be used to generate electricity.
Overall, not a bad idea. But there’s a prediction attached. Environmentalists and scientists will want to know the effects of radio-frequency energy penetrating the Earth’s crust. For instance, will there be any leakage to the surface of those waves? Further, it may take a long time for this concept to catch on simply because it is new. Stay tuned and see how the innovation plays out.
PyroPhase was founded in 2006 by researchers who originally developed the RF technology at IIT Research Institute in Chicago. The work was funded by petroleum companies and the US Department of Energy. The company has a number of patents in the U.S. and Canada.
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