Chevron Technology Ventures, a division of Chevron U.S.A. Inc. that identifies, evaluates and demonstrates emerging technologies, today launched a unique demonstration project to test the viability of using solar energyto produce oil. The project uses over 7,600 mirrors to focus the sun’s energy onto a solar boiler. The steam produced is injected into oil reservoirs to increase oil production. The project is the largest of its kind in the world.
“Through this demonstration, we want to determine the feasibility of using solar power for enhanced oil recovery,” said Desmond King, president of Chevron Technology Ventures. “This technology has the potential to augment gas-powered steam generation and may provide an additional resource in areas of the world where natural gas is expensive or not readily available.” One of America’s oldest oil fields, the Coalinga Field began operations in the 1890s. Because the heavy crude oil produced at the field does not flow readily, it is more difficult to extract than lighter grades of crude.
Chevron enhances oil production from the Coalinga Field by injecting steam to heat the crude, thereby reducing its viscosity and making it easier to produce. This steam is currently generated by burning natural gas. The solar-to-steam project will supplement the gas-fired steam generators and help determine the commercial viability of using heat from the sun instead of natural gas to generate steam. Throughout the course of the day, more than 7,600 mirrors track the sun and reflect its rays to a receiver positioned on a solar tower. Using heat from the concentrated sunlight, the solar tower system produces steam that is distributed throughout the oil field and then injected underground for enhanced oil recovery. The solar demonstration generates about the same amount of steam as one gas-fired steam generator. Chevron contracted BrightSource Energy, Inc., as the technology provider and for engineering, procurement and construction. The project will be operated by Chevron Technology Ventures.