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Raytheon and Partner Combine Radio Frequency and Supercritical Fluid Technology for Oil Shale Processing

Raytheon Company—a $22-billion company better known for its defense and government electronics, aerospace, information technology, and technical services capabilities—and its partner, CF Technologies, have developed a technology that may result in the more efficient extraction of oil from shale.

The technology, for which Raytheon and CF Technologies have filed patents, combines radio frequency (RF) technology from Raytheon with supercritical fluid technology from CF Technologies.

Raytheon is an expert in RF technology. What makes this effort a breakthrough is that similar RF technology that we have been applying in core defense products...has demonstrated applications in the energy crisis. We are now talking with energy companies to license our unique, patent-pending technological approach.

—Lee Silvestre, director of Mission Innovation at Raytheon IDS

Critical fluids, or supercritical fluids (SCF), are liquids or gases used in a state above their critical temperature and pressure (critical point). In this state, the SCF has unique properties different from those of either gases or liquids, offering a combination of liquid-like density and solvency, with gas-like viscosity, diffusivity, compressibility and lack of surface tension.

As a result, supercritical fluids can rapidly penetrate porous and fibrous solids, offer good catalytic activity and can dissolve and extract a wide range of chemicals. Carbon dioxide is commonly used as a supercritical fluid.

Based on these properties, a number of industrial applications from cleaning to pharmaceutical manufacturing are emerging for SCF—including multiple applications in the petroleum industry.

The use of SCF technology has been explored as a mechanism for extracting oil from oil share for about a decade. Radio frequency technology for oil shale processing has also been investigated, with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory trying in-situ retorting with RF energy (among a long list of other approaches.)

But combining radio frequency and critical fluid technologies provides a revolutionary way for recovering oil from shale reserves worldwide, according to John Moses, president of CF Technologies.

Based on laboratory results and analysis, the oil produced is a light product, comparable to kerosene that can be produced by the unique process with high extraction efficiency, according to the companies.

We took a systems approach to the energy problem. Oil companies are under pressure to be more efficient in how they extract energy sources from the ground. Using our RF-CF technique provides a viable response to these pressures.

—John Cogliandro, Raytheon IDS chief engineer for the project

In addition to producing more oil from shale formations, some companies may consider it an option for improving return from existing reserves that have been marginal, including heavy oils, tar sands and spent wells.

The development of this technology continues while outside experts are considering its ramifications.



allen zheng

____How efficient is this process? What is its energy input/output ratio? How far can this process could theoretically/feasibly pushed in terms of efficiency/productivity?
____If below 1 to 1.3 (aprox. for corn ethanol), then it is not worth it. If 1 to 10 (average for moderately accessable light/medium oil), then it would be more acceptable. Water and waste issues must be dealt with.

Rafael Seidl

I suspect the RF energy is used to achieve in-situ hydrocracking of the heavy oil and tar into middle and light distillates which can then be transported to the surface by the supercritical fluid (presumably, mostly water). This will work only if the reservoir is sufficiently well sealed yet shallow enough for the RF radiation to penetrate the rock formation.

Power consumption and water recycling will be key challenges. In Western Colorado, where the US Navy owns huge shale oil deposits, water is scarce (much of it is reserved for Los Angeles by way of the Colorado river).

Mark A

Rafael, according to the article, carbon dioxide is the the super critical fluid to be used. With that being said, I dont know how that works, or how it is to be sequestered after being used, or if it needs to be sequestered. Could be an interesting development for those of us rich in oil shale reserves.

Rafael Seidl

Mark -

thx for the correction. By using CO2, they would avoid consuming water in a region that has too little and, the associated ground water pollution.

I would expect that the CO2 would be recirculated as much as possible, mostly because producing it requires burning fossil fuel. Failing that, perhaps they intend to build a power station in the vicinity to provide a CO2 source. GHG issues are probably not the #1 priority of the folks that are advocating this, for them it's all about reducing the dependence on oil imports from hostile and/or unstable countries.


Injected CO2 at supercritical condition is not feasible at the depth in which most oil shales are located. Injecting CO2 at supercritical condition is only possible at very high depth below surface.

Ideal solvents for this extraction process are solvents that can exist at supercritical condition at very low pressure.


Actually you are incorrect in that CO2 could not be used at the shale formations depth. The critical point for CO2 is 31’c and 7.38 mpa or 1070 psi. CO2 was chosen because its critical point is so much less than water’s at 374 ‘C and 22 Mpa (3200 PSI ). That being said the average unconfined compression strength of limestone is between 43.6 MPa (6336 psi), and 73.8 MPa (10718 psi) Unconfined means without overbearing rock strata.
To put this in perspective concrete is usually rated from 4000-10000 psi. Limestone is so strong in compression it’s used, as a structural material for multistory building in Texas the tallest in Austin is 5 stories of unsupported native Texas limestone. O I guess I should clarify I am a Geologist, and currently a grad student at the University of Texas at Austin. I mention limestone, as it is typically the cap rock on the kerogen bearing strata to be targeted with supercritical solvent extraction.
As for the RF having to penetrate the rock strata if you look at the background research in this method the RF energy is conveyed down shaft via wave-guides where it heats the source rocks laterally away from the boreholes. They’re not setting up microwaves on the surface, and beaming it into the ground as was alluded too farther up. Once the strata have been heated the supercritical fluid is used to extract the resulting distillates from downward injection wells to upward producing wells following induced fractures in the formation. Since shale is neither permeable nor porous the fracture system is induced via high pressure hydraulic methods. The CO2 is recycled again, and again in a closed loop system.
Shell is using electric heaters instead of RF to heat the strata to the necessary temperatures, and their energy input/output ratio was 1 to 8 last I checked putting it on par with pumped deepwater oil ,and enhanced oil recovery methods in existing fields. Since sedimentary rocks do not have high specific heat capacities it does not take a lot of energy to heat rock that is already around 50’C to the 250’C necessary to crack kerogen insitu. The historic inability to extract shale oil insitu was the choice to use water as the solvent or to use partial combustion down-bore as the energy source both are very inefficient. Plus there was insufficient political will or funding for the extraction of the resource when oil at the time was 5-10 bucks a barrel. Shells electric heater test plot is yielding light sweet distillates without the use of water as a co solvent or any additional hydrogen source. The Shell method is a reduction coking reaction that leaves the excess carbon from the reaction down bore as coke deposits. Which in the future could be extracted using a endothermic high temperature steam reformation method C+H2O --> 2CO+H this resulting syngas can be liquefied on site via Fischer Tropsch synthesis or methanated via the Sabatier reaction for subsequent pipeline or LNG use.

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