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Nanotech may pull oil from tar sands

On Friday I was at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research’s Economic Summit (some videos available), where among other things I learned that the oil sands of Canada are, unfortunately, more accurately thought of as “tar sands”. But Chevron has announced a $60 million deal to develop these sands. The Motley Fool’s Jack Uldrich speculates on why they are willing to take this big project on:

“The risky venture could ultimately cost tens of billions of dollars and take up to a decade to develop, since the tar in the oil sands isn’t easily converted to usable oil. But Chevron may have a very tiny ace up its sleeve, thanks to its involvement with nanotechnology…

“Chevron’s work in creating new nanoparticles offers the greatest promise. If the company can produce new nanoparticles with unique catalytic capabilities, it may be able to more effectively and efficiently refine the thick, gooey tar-sands into highly refined — and profitable –oil.

“Headwaters (NYSE: HW) is already developing nanocatalysts to convert heavy oils into higher-yield oils, and I have reason to believe that Chevron is doing the same. If the company succeeds, these powerful new nanocatalysts could make extracting oil from the tar sands profitable, even at prices lower than $35 a barrel. And if oil prices stay high, a cheaper extraction process will only bolster Chevron’s profit margins. It’s yet another small solution to a potentially big risk.”

8 Responses to “Nanotech may pull oil from tar sands”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    This is the apex of nano-hype:

    “IF the company can produce new nanoparticles with unique catalytic capabilities, it MAY BE able to more effectively and efficiently refine the thick, gooey tar-sands into highly refined — and profitable –oil.”

    IF, MAYBE, and other key words like “could,” “someday,” and “possibly” keep the false hope alive over our dead-end energy future. The reality is, that if “nanotech” ever finally comes to fruition, after decades of unfulfilled promises, we won’t be needing tar sands or oil at all, period.

    And, coming from Chevron, one should automatically doubt the accuracy of these claims.

  2. Jon Burchel Says:

    Thanks for another great post Ms. Peterson! Don’t know what the first commenter’s problem is… It is great to see how nanotechnology is helping solve the energy crunch and deliver more power to the human race to help raise the standard of living for people everywhere and decrease suffering. The future is indeed very bright.

    Also, why should one “automatically doubt the accuracy of these claims” because they “come from Chevron”? Sounds like we have a hater… I would just like to comment that “evil big oil” is the single best hope the world has for developing newer cleaner modes of energy, as they are by far investing more than any other source in research for that end. Not to mention the fact they have provided the energy over the last century to eliminate untold amounts of suffering for billions of human beings on this little rock in space. Why hate them just because they have managed to make a profit. Their profit is relatively miniscule compared to the investments they make, even if it is gargantuan compared to what most people deal with on a daily basis. The margins in the oil business are some of the lowest in any business on Earth. I get so sick of “big oil” haters. Get over it, and read Adam Smith, for God’s sake…

  3. The Guy Says:

    Rock on Jon. Miss Anonymous is being a wet blanket.
    There are at least three already developing fields of nanotech in regards to catalysts which will definitely apply to this field. And those don’t include nanobio like modified oil metabolizing bacteria. Notice the use of the word ARE not MAYBE. Nanoporous metal catalysts are already in use in several fields of chemical production which is all that oil refining IS.
    Love to see that 35$ a barrel line, wouldn’t that be sweet?
    Of course this doesn’t reduce the importance of pebble bed nuclear reactors which are by far and large one of the best energy technologies on the planet. Why hasn’t anyone focused on those? No melt down, very long cycle run times and far less residual waste per gigawatt of lifetime.

  4. PuhLeez . . . Says:

    You guys are too funny. So the first post is a wet towel. Hence, pebble bed reactors producing toxic wastes that last thousands of years are a good idea. Love the clear, level headed logic going on here.
    And I think the first post also has a very good point when he mentions thirty five dollar oil. The current “oil crisis” is no more real than the previous one in the seventies. Do you recall that then people also assumed in masse that the oil was really all gone. That’s nothing but paranoia and it’s back in full strength. It is indeed quite clear that this huge Enron linke price hike in oil is mainly about oil companies making profits and there is something very very wrong with that when it transfers wealth into the hands of a few at the expense of the many.
    Oil will be back to thirty a barrell because there’s plenty of it. The people who question that are fanatic chicken littles trying to jack up the price of thir stock holdings. Hey, can’t blame them for trying but a hustler is a hustler even if you wear a tie and drop racist innuendo like a real life conservative christian type.

  5. Zelah Says:

    I endorse everything The Guy says!

    Lets save the planet!

  6. Billy Says:

    PuhLezz….Please, your conspiracy theorizing is giving me a migraine. I do not doubt that there is more oil than is being let on, but its the oil company’s fault we aren’t getting it cheaper? I’ll bet its America’s fault too right, and how about we toss the Zionists in while we’re at it. God knows theyre blamed for everything already.

    “drop racist innuendo like a real life conservative christian type” where did that come from? You been listening to Louis Farrakhan? I’ll bet that your a far bigger racist than most conservatives are; we afterall don’t think that minorities are so stupid that they cannot get schooling without affirmative action.

  7. Gaabrielle Says:

    why don’t u put information about how oil is converted from raw material to usable energy???? GOD! Like get a life!

  8. quista Says:

    Though you are a stranger to me. I would most probably be interested about Nanotechnology. Because it can save so much money and time. The only problem is that for how long will they be able to finish this. So I say, go for it. This is a great chance to help save the planet. I would just like to give my support to those people working hard to accomplish their goal properly. tada!!!

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