UMC Links

Forum on Unconventional Fuels

April 23, 2010 — Obtaining fuels from sources such as oil sands, oil shale and coal gasification will be discussed by scientific, industry, environmental and legal experts during a day-long conference at the University of Utah on Wednesday, April 28.

The meeting – the 2010 University of Utah Unconventional Fuels Conference: Production of Fuels from Oil Shale, Oil Sands and Coal – will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. in the Varsity Room (Level 6) at Rice-Eccles Stadium on campus.

News media are invited to cover the conference, sponsored by the university’s Institute for Clean and Secure Energy (ICSE). The conference is open to the public. A $35 registration fee includes parking, a continental breakfast and lunch.

“This year’s conference expands upon the Western U.S. Oil Sands Conference that ICSE has sponsored the past several years,” said organizer Jennifer Spinti, a research associate professor of chemical engineering. “This year’s conference will focus on the production of fuels derived from oil shale and coal in addition to oil sands.”

“In this era of fluctuating energy prices and concern about long-term impacts of atmospheric carbon releases, the conference will consider technical, environmental and policy issues relevant to the development of these resources in the western United States,” she says. “The conference objective is to provide policy makers, academic researchers, regulators, industry representatives and concerned members of the public with a forum that fosters collaboration and understanding of the myriad issues to be addressed if these unconventional fuels are to be utilized.”

“Public outreach events where we communicate the results of our research and facilitate collaboration among various constituencies in Utah are critical to the mission of ICSE,” says the institute’s director, Philip J. Smith, a professor of chemical engineering. “Expanding the scope of the conference to discuss three of Utah’s largest unconventional fuel resources presents an exciting opportunity for ICSE to fulfill that mission.”

The conference’s 8:30 a.m. session will provide perspectives on unconventional fuels development from the local, state and federal levels. Uintah County Commissioner Mark Raymond will discuss unconventional fuels in the Uinta Basin. Dianne Nielson, energy advisor to Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, will provide a state perspective. Steve Black, counselor to U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, will speak on the role of unconventional fuels in the nation’s energy portfolio.

The 10:40 a.m. session will focus on research involving coal gasification, the geology of oil shale deposits and environmental impacts of oil sands development.

The lunch hour will feature a poster session displaying University of Utah research on unconventional fuels and a Utah Geological Survey display of oil shale and oil sands drilling cores.

Afternoon talks will provide industry perspectives on unconventional fuels development, followed by a 3:40 p.m. lecture by Arnold W. Reitze Jr., a University of Utah law professor, on federal control of greenhouse gas emissions.

A complete schedule of conference lectures and events is at:

People who wish to attend the conference my register online through Tuesday, April 27 at Onsite registration is available the day of the conference.

What are Unconventional Fuels?

  • Oil shale is a fine-grained sedimentary rock that is tightly bound to organic material known as kerogen. When oil shale is heated, the kerogen is released as both gaseous and liquid products.
  • Coal is a complex, combustible sedimentary rock formed from plant material that decomposed and was altered by heat and pressure. Thermal treatment of coal can yield gases or liquids depending on the process used, such as underground coal gasification or direct liquefaction.

Oil sands are consolidated or unconsolidated rock, exclusive of oil shale and coal, which contain a very viscous organic material known as bitumen. Bitumen can be recovered from oil sands by hot water or solvent extraction or by heating the sand in an inert atmosphere.