The wrapped wire is heated to 150 °C until a resin in the tape hardens the insulation, but the insulation remains flexible for shipping and installation. It’s then heated on site to 500 °C, turning it into a solid, durable ceramic coating.
As part of a recent demonstration project under a DOE program, Composite Technology successfully tested its insulated cables for more than 5,000 hours at temperatures ranging from 760 to 850 °C. At these high temperatures, “it has stable electrical properties,” says Tupper. “It’s not affected by the environment, and it doesn’t degrade.”
Tupper adds that the cables can also operate under a wide range of voltages and temperatures, and can be manufactured in virtually any length. “There are similar types of materials out there, but we’ve developed a way to make something that would perform the same way but at a fraction of the cost,” Tupper says. “That makes the economics work for the oil and gas industry.” He adds that Shell has already evaluated the technology and is showing strong interest.
But even with this breakthrough, some question the wisdom of using electricity to heat up rock just to squeeze more oil out of the planet. Shell claims that its process produces three to seven units of energy for every one unit that’s needed for the process.
“Assuming this cable worked, what does that give you?” asks Clement Bowman, a former top scientist at Imperial Oil, who helped lead the development of Canada’s oil sands. “Electricity is a high-end electrical product, and using it to recover low-end energy products like kerogen or bitumen will always carry an economic penalty.”