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Liquid Metal Heat Exchanger for Geologic Deposits

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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Technology Marketing SummaryResearchers at ORNL developed a down-well heating apparatus that efficiently heats subterranean geological deposits, such as oil shale, to extract hydrocarbons for energy needs. The apparatus provides more efficient heat transfer than existing technologies for hydrocarbon extraction. It also holds promise for in situ remediation of contaminated soils and geological formations by thermal decomposition. DescriptionThe apparatus allows the liquid metal to distribute heat evenly throughout the oil shale. This reduces or eliminates entirely the problems that alternative technologies have with localized hot spots. The invention is inserted down a well into the subterranean ground where hydrocarbons are expected. The heater raises the temperature of the heat transfer metal to a temperature within the preselected temperature range. The metal transfers heat to the deposit in the earth, driving the hydrocarbons towards another well for extraction.

The heat transfer metal operates in both a passive and an active circulation mode. The metal is configured to have a melting point temperature lower than the operating temperature range of the heater, and a boiling point higher than the operating temperature range.
  • Eliminates or reduces hot spots by providing more even heat distribution
  • Reduces costs associated with in situ heat extraction of oil shale by reducing heating element maintenance
  • Tin, a low cost, nontoxic, stable metal, could be well-suited for this application
Applications and Industries
  • In situ heating of oil shale and tar and oil sands, for hydrocarbon extraction from geological formations
  • In situ remediation of contaminated soils and geological formations by thermal decomposition
  • Applications requiring high heat fluxes, singlephase (liquid) heat exchange, natural circulation heat transfer, and/or system compactness
More InformationInventors:
Robert C. Devault1 and David J. Wesolowski
Energy and Transportation Science Division Chemical Sciences Division
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Patents and Patent Applications
ID Number
Title and Abstract
Primary Lab
Patent 7,665,524
Liquid metal heat exchanger for efficient heating of soils and geologic formations
Apparatus for efficient heating of subterranean earth includes a well-casing that has an inner wall and an outer wall. A heater is disposed within the inner wall and is operable within a preselected operating temperature range. A heat transfer metal is disposed within the outer wall and without the inner wall, and is characterized by a melting point temperature lower than the preselected operating temperature range and a boiling point temperature higher than the preselected operating temperature range.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory 02/23/2010
Technology Status
Technology IDDevelopment StageAvailabilityPublishedLast Updated
UT-B ID 200501535DevelopmentAvailable10/20/201012/15/2010

Contact ORNL About This Technology

To: David L. Sims<>