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DOE Seeking Comments on Report on Research Strategy for Developing Unconventional Fossil Energy Resources

The US Department of Energy (DOE) is seeking comments from industry and academia on a draft report outlining domestic unconventional fossil energy resource opportunities and associated technology applications, in support of an overall strategy for the further development of these resources.

The report, Unconventional Fossil Energy: Domestic Resource Opportunities and Technology Applications, was requested under the legislation appropriating funds for the FY2010 DOE Fossil Energy R&D program and examines oil shale; tar sands; heavy oil; oil from fractured shales; residual oil; tight gas; coal seam gas; shale gas; methane hydrates; and unmineable coal.

The report was developed based on the assumptions that:

  • Energy consumption will continue to grow and in particular, liquid fossil fuels will remain a significant part of the US energy supply for the next quarter century and more.

  • Demand for liquid fossil fuels will require the US. to continue to import roughly half of its crude oil supply for the foreseeable future, despite strong growth in renewable biofuels supply.

  • Despite expected dramatic improvements in energy efficiency and conservation, emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel consumption will grow over the next quarter century.

Accordingly, an unconventional fossil energy R&D strategy should work to increase the supply of domestic fuels and where possible, to do so in a manner that reduces or mitigates the net volume of carbon dioxide emitted as a result of the production and use of the fuel.

Administration objectives for meeting national goals include catalyzing economic growth, reducing emissions of carbon dioxide that can lead to climate change, and strengthening national security by reducing dependence on foreign energy supplies. Accordingly, an unconventional fossil energy R&D strategy should work to support these objectives.

While all fossil fuels involve the potential for release of CO2 during exploration, production, processing and use, amongst the choices there are positive and/or negative elements that combine to create an overall general impact. In every case, the production of domestic unconventional oil, gas, and coal resources can be assumed to reduce near term dependence on foreign sources of energy and stimulate near term domestic job growth and the creation of wealth.

—“Unconventional Fossil Energy”

The basic approach of the report thus was to assess the degree to which there are unconventional fossil resources which are significant in terms of magnitude; have positive or neutral carbon management impacts; are not currently the focus of a high level of R&D effort; and could quickly result in positive economic benefits. These could then be identified for a higher priority in terms of new or continued research.

Among the conclusions of the report are:

  • The unconventional resource categories which most closely match the above criteria are residual oil and unmineable coal, with similar magnitudes of estimated recoverable energy; relatively low research levels; and positive (in the case of residual oil) and neutral or possibly positive carbon impacts in the case of unmineable coal. In the case of residual oil, there is also relatively strong potential for near term economic impacts. Accordingly, these resources might merit additional focus in terms of R&D, the report concluded.

  • Methane from methane hydrate also has the potential to impact carbon management in a positive way, and the enormous potential magnitude of the resource argues for continued significant R&D focus. While the economic impact of hydrate R&D may be farther off than some other unconventional resources, the “enormous” potential for this resource to provide a low carbon fossil energy supply merits continued attention and scientific effort.

  • Unconventional gas from shales and tight gas sands follow in terms of their relative position on these criteria. Additional research is still merited for those unique plays where current technologies are not sufficient.

  • While oil shale is a difficult challenge from the standpoint of carbon management, the report founds, the “enormous” magnitude of the resource suggests that some level of continued research should be maintained. The best focus for continued research could be in the area of environmental impact assessment and mitigation research, and in efforts that seek to improve our general ability to visualize and model subsurface physical processes. This is particularly relevant given that 80% of the resource is on public land, the report said.

  • Tar sands, heavy oil and oil from fractured shales are less of a priority based primarily on both their relative resource size and carbon management impact, the authors determined. However, targeted research that helps to accelerate the development of oil from fractured shales in key emerging plays could be important on a regional basis.

In preparing the report, DOE drew from a large number of public reports, studies, white papers, workshop/conference summaries, reports by expert advisory committees and other publications, as well as from information gleaned for its work with academia and industry on cost-shared R&D.

Interested parties are encouraged to review the report and provide written comments within the next 30 days.




Something like 200+ million electrified vehicles and 40,000 wind turbines and/or 100 (+/-) new up-to-date nuclear power plants could achieve the came goals while polluting a lot less.

A massive program to introduce 100+ million ultra high efficiency heat pumps (SEER-25/26) in every USA homes and industrial/commercial/public buildings could reduce overall energy consumption and associated pollution.

Finding more ways to produce more fossil liquid fuels is not compatible with out time.


Methane hydrate seems like the only reasonable potential here. As a transition fuel methane can lower the use of coal in power plants.

However moves to continue the fossil monopoly on energy production in North America will hasten the introduction of new, possibly exotic alternatives.


If you assume that global oil exports are going to dry up to next to nothing over the next 25 years then you get a more realistic scenario!


That is "do nothing" or "0" scenario or relaying on commercial short term incentives. Most of studies which have been reviewd by DOE was made by comercial entities and contracted by commercial entities analyzing comercial behavour in short term perspective.

In middle of XX century major impact on CO2 was made by nuclear power plants. That was not commercial affair. Many of them went bankrupt. But effect on the society and overall economy was positive pressing fossil fuel prices down.

Let's do something now. Let's do something which might change power generation pattern and make it more sustainable. I have feeling that wind and solar will be not affordable as mainstream power generation technologies. Nuclear fission an fusion most probably will be alternatives. I have no information about "space solar". I would invest some money into investigation.

Of course transportation shall go electrical (via EREV) and this will allow concentrate our efforts on sustainable power generation and cleaner power plants.

Pao Chi Pien

Besides seeking unconventional fossil energy resource, it is also important to achieve the maximum possible fuel efficiency with minimum emissions for existing engines. Basically, a reciprocating internal combustion engine is a device to convert fuel chemical energy into useful mechanical work. Currently, less than 25% of fuel chemical energy is transformed into mechanical work. Because working fluid properties are not in equilibrium and non-equilibrium thermodynamics is too complicated for practical use, model-based design tools and development processes based around them have been used to generate some success for automotive companies. However, without scientific guidelines, such tools have reached point of diminish return. Furthermore, technologies such as downsizing, variable compression ratio and lean-burn engine operation, etc. obtained from engine experiments can not be easily incorporated into one practical engine design.
I have developed a new key equation to relate the work done by or on a moving piston and the increase or decrease of working fluid internal energy. By using this key equation to obtain three key variables and create a new engine configuration to allow these three key variables to vary, the maximum possible fuel efficiency with minimum emissions can be achieved. I first obtain the optimum combination of three key variables to achieve accurate prediction of the highest possible indicated fuel efficiency. Then by minimizing the coolant load experimentally, the brake power is maximized. By doing so, the fuel efficiency can be doubled without retooling factories.


Some who read this site know that we promote the idea of distributed energy in the form of CHP Residential Power Units. These may be SOFCs, or mechanical units that will burn a low carbon fuel like NG or H2 to generate electricity and heat for residences.

There are tests going on now with the Bloom box in silicon Valley that look like a good start in this direction. By lowering the demand on grids and power plants, RPUs slow cost of new hydro, coal, NG, nuke plant construction. Strengthen national security by limiting foreign imports and decentralizing energy resources.

Henry Gibson

CHP units for residences and all other buildings are indeed the lowest cost and fastest way of both reducing fuel consumption and the release of CO2. All solar energy and wind turbine subsidies should be eliminated for the more invesment efficient CHP units. Many new coal to liquid fuel production facilities combined with higher efficiencies produced by the implementation of hydraulic hybrid or other hybrid tecnologies will also reduce CO2 production and can eliminate all oil imports quickly without increasing CO2 releases, and carbon dioxide storage can be used as well. The money saved on oil imports will pay for these project quickly by the implementation of a tax of $35 on imported oil. Low carbon fuels can be produced such as propane, methanol and ethanol to further reduce total CO2 release. Nuclear heat can be used in many processing steps and eventually can produce hydrogen to reduce the release of CO2 rather than using it as a direct fuel. Nuclear heat can also aid in the capture of CO2. CO2 is being placed now permanently in oil fields to increase recovery from those fields. It is possible to store CO2 forevever dissolved in deep ocean waters and even deep mineral deposits. Lakes full of liquid CO2 could exist forever on ocean bottoms forever until the CO2 was needed. Some old natural gas and oil fields can also be used to store liquid CO2. There might even be a solid substance called CO2 hydrate that can exist at high pressures and cool temperatures. ..HG..

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