Chicago, April 7, 2011 — Canadian patent 2,643,380 was issued March 22, 2011 for a method to store variable wind and solar power as heat in heavy oil formations, including oil sands and oil shale, and assigned to PyroPhase Inc.
U.S. Patent No. 7,484,561 was previously issued. Presently wind and solar power amount to less than 2 percent of U.S. 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 percent of electric generation, while eliminating a source of carbon dioxide 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.
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 U.S. Department of Energy. The technology was described in earlier patents such as 4140180 and 4144935.
PyroPhase has developed plans to scale up and commercialize this technology. A 10,000 barrel/day plant could be built in 4 years at a cost in the order of $100 million, including 5 million for pilot development and 20 million to scale up to commercial module size.