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Oil Shale: Exploration, History, Today and Future

11 December 2019


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  • Alar Konist

    Professor, Department of Energy Technology, Tallinn University of Technology

Oil shale is a resource that has given energy independence and security to Estonia. Oil shale has also been an excellent object of research that has helped Estonian researchers engage in high-level top science, and in a number of cases has also helped a researcher achieve the status of academician, for example.

There are so many existing patents and utility models in the field of oil shale that there is no point in even beginning to list them, or the doctoral theses that have been written. Thus it can be stated that specific studies on oil shale have also had practical and measurable outputs.

Nowadays we are able to produce fine chemical products, oil and, of course, electricity. This is a sector that makes a very important and large contribution to our GDP. Of course, it cannot be denied here that oil shale industry also plays a very large role in Estonia’s environmental emissions. Due to increasingly stricter environmental requirements and charges and the EU’s climate policy, the question of the sustainability of oil shale industry has emerged in recent times. Nearly every day some politician says that the industry will be closed down because we are failing to meet the environmental requirements. Here it must be said to calm the situation that oil shale industry is able to meet the environmental requirements in force. There is also space for additional technological and process developments that would make the sector even more environment-friendly. An innovation has taken place, and the circulating fluidized bed combustion technology that has been adopted has been implemented in both oil and electricity production. This has reduced the environmental impact of oil shale industry by half in some cases, and by as many as 1000 times in certain cases. Thus, in terms of environmental requirements, oil shale industry does not have to be closed down, and there is also still room for development. If we want to simply close it down, then this is a different matter and it must be formulated accordingly.

However, as there are researchers today who have the ideas and the will to develop even more CO2-neutral technological solutions for oil shale, like for example carbon capture and use or storage (CCUS technology), it is definitely necessary to conduct research in this area. Oil shale should be treated as an energy security guarantee that at best can also be ensured with a negative CO2 emission level, depending on the technology.