Sulphur-rich (bituminous) oil shale, a kerogen containing sedimentary rock from the Mesozoic era, is starting material for manufacture of sulphonated shale oils. Kerogen is the organic material of oil shale developed from algae and phytoplankton of marine origin as it appears today after several million years of geological processes of sedimentation and metamorphism: a rigid network of high-molecular organic compounds with comparatively high hydrogen/carbon ratio.
Sulphur-rich deposits as they are needed for manufacture of ICHTHAMMOL® according to pharmacopoeia requirements, are hidden mostly inaccessible inside the Alps and French Jura and have to be exploited in an underground mining operation in a complicated system of chambers.
Extraction of oil shale rock is followed by a dry distillation procedure under exclusion of air for production of shale oil above ground.
This process is impeded by presence of high amounts of dead rock as valueless lime stone layers alternate with those containing biomass. However, the so called gangue has to be heated in the process as well so that a relatively high input of energy is necessary as related to the yield of oil. For energy saving the manufacturing process, therefore, is equipped with a sophisticated heat recovery system.
After separation of water the highly sulphuric shale oil is processed further in a specially equipped refinery plant with associated chemical production in Seefeld, Austria. This plant operates according to requirements for medicinal products on European level after the guidelines of good manufacturing practice (GMP). The GMP system makes sure that ICHTHAMMOL® is manufactured reproducible in required pharmacopoeia quality.
Subsequent to refinement of shale oil purified distillates are mixed with sulphuric acid and finally are neutralized. ICHTHAMMOL® results as ammonium salt of dark sulfonated shale oil on basis of sulphur-rich bituminous schists.