US firm uses solar power to recover oil reserves

A new technology to increase oil production is being tested on one of US’s oldest oil fields in one of the largest demonstration projects of its kind.

The project was launched today by Chevron Technology Ventures at the Coalinga Field in California.

More than 7,600 mirrors are being used to focus the sun’s energy onto a solar boiler to produce steam that can then be injected into oil reservoirs to enhance oil recovery.

Desmond King, president of Chevron Technology Ventures, said: ‘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.’

The heavy crude oil produced at Coalinga Field does not flow readily, so is more difficult to extract than lighter grades of crude.

Chevron currently enhances oil production from the field by injecting steam — generated by burning natural gas — to heat the crude, thereby reducing its viscosity and making it easier to recover.

During the trial, mirrors on site will 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 will produce steam to be distributed throughout the oil field and then injected underground for enhanced oil recovery. The solar demonstration reportedly generates about the same amount of steam as one gas-fired steam generator.

‘Our region has a long history of pioneering innovative technologies,’ said Bruce Johnson, vice-president of Chevron’s San Joaquin Valley business unit. ‘The work we are doing at Coalinga continues that tradition, enabling us to examine a new technology that could have significant implications for heavy-oil production.’