Space research might prove useful in challenging energy issue

Technologies developed for, or derived from, ExoMars – Europe’s next robotic mission to Mars in 2016 but now due to fly on a NASA mission in 2018 – could prove helpful in challenging the energy supply issue, humanity’s first and most important problem in the 21st century.

Thanks to funding by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) , London’s Imperial College has prepared a major study about this new technology and its eventual use as an inexpensive and efficient way to help process unconventional energy resources. It could also have enormous positive fall outs on the UK and global economy.

Usable energy resources are essential to the global economy. Conventional crude oil is a staple energy resource and accounts for over 35% of the world’s energy consumption. As the demand for oil exceeds supply, focus has now turned to trying to tap unconventional fossil fuels, such as tar sands. However, these unconventional fossil fuels must be extracted and upgraded to match the characteristics of more conventional oil deposits and make them commercially viable. The extraction process requires substantial amounts of water which is then left contaminated for extended periods of time. In just hours, the new technology can strip this water of its oily contaminants, removing a bottleneck in the refining process.

Professor Mark Sephton from Imperial’s Department of Earth Science and Engineering, has been reported saying that “the research involves using extraction-helping materials, called surfactants, to liberate organic matter from rock in space to gain a deeper understanding into the biological environment on Mars. We aim to show that the same technique could also be used to recycle the prodigious amounts of water necessary to process tar sand deposits and turn them into conventional petroleum.”

“Our new technology is an inexpensive approach that can be used to reduce the water demand during treatment of this type of unconventional hydrocarbon deposit. Moreover, these extraction helping materials are environmentally harmless to the extent that they are edible. Our research at Imperial College combines first rate scientific investigation with practical engineering design.”


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