Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo


Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

{ action.text }

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.”

20 comments. Share your thoughts »

Credit: Composite Technology Development

Tagged: Energy, Materials, oil, Shell, shale oil, ceramics

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives


Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me