Advancements in THz Spectroscopy Revolutionize Oil Shale Analysis and Processing


Oil is an important natural resource that helps power vehicles, to heat homes, and to make products that humans need. This study out of China examines how terahertz spectroscopy can be used to characterize oil shale.

Oil production is one of the most important industries in the global economy. As a natural resource, oil is the primary driver of powering most of the world’s machinery and infrastructure. It is important that the utilization of oil shale is efficient, which requires a process that can characterize oil shale quickly and efficiently. In a recent study published in Energy Reviews, lead author Kun Zhao of China University of Petroleum and others explore the use of terahertz (THz) spectroscopy as a tool in optimizing the utilization of oil shale resources (1).

Oil shale is a sedimentary rock abundant in organic kerogen. It is well-known as an important source of energy and a vital strategic reserve (1). What makes characterizing oil shale difficult is because of its complex composition and the relationship between its organic and mineral components. Traditional methods have not been able to resolve this issue.

Oil and Gas Drilling: Equipment on Onshore Desert Rig. Powering the Energy Industry with Shale and Gas Wells Amidst Dramatic Cloudscape. Generative AI | Image Credit: © AIGen -

Oil and Gas Drilling: Equipment on Onshore Desert Rig. Powering the Energy Industry with Shale and Gas Wells Amidst Dramatic Cloudscape. Generative AI | Image Credit: © AIGen -

Zhao and his team explored whether THz spectroscopy could improve upon existing methods in characterizing oil shale. The frequency at which macromolecules within oil shale rotate and vibrate lies within the THz band (1). As a result, the researchers suspected that if they analyzed THz optical parameters, they could learn more about kerogen and its physical properties (1).

The study put increased focus on the anisotropic nature of oil shale (1). Anisotropy strongly correlates with oil yield; as a result, it can be used as an effective way to evaluate yield without resorting to traditional, environmentally detrimental detection methods (1). Moreover, THz amplitude imaging revealed heterogeneous distributions of organics on the oil shale surface, unveiling areas rich and poor in kerogen (1).

Thermal THz analysis is an important development. It enables the determination of kerogen pyrolysis processes and the establishment of accurate pyrolysis models, facilitating the optimization of oil shale pyrolysis techniques (1).

Another finding that the researchers highlighted in the study was the distinct absorption peak exhibited by kerogen in the THz range (1). This discovery promises a fresh approach to micro and nano-scale research of kerogen, offering deeper insights into its characteristics (1).

As a result of their study, the researchers were able to come to several conclusions. The first conclusion is that THz spectroscopy allowed for the rapid detection of oil shale (1). Recent experiments showcased that high-temperature pyrolysis of oil shale leads to strong THz radiation absorption because of pyrite decomposition, further broadening the spectrum of analysis (1).

The second conclusion the researchers wrote in their study was that THz spectroscopy improves upon existing methods. As a result, it could potentially lead to future technological improvements in oil shale processing (1). The review article acknowledges that more research needs to be done in this field, but that their study is a good starting point for future development and innovation.

This article was written with the help of artificial intelligence and has been edited to ensure accuracy and clarity. You can read more about our policy for using AI here.


(1) Liu, X.; Zhao, K.; Miao, X.; Zhan, H. Characterization and Evaluation of Oil Shale based on Terahertz Spectroscopy: A Review. Energy Rev. 2023, 2 (4),100041. DOI: 10.1016/j.enrev.2023.100041

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