Coalinga, California – Chevron has launched a unique demonstration project to test the viability of using solar energy to produce oil. The project uses over 7,600 mirrors to focus the sun’s energy onto a solar boiler, with the steam produced injected into oil reservoirs to increase 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.”
The project is located at the Coalinga Field, one of America’s oldest oil fields. Because the heavy crude oil produced at the field does not readily flow, it is more difficult to extract than lighter grades of crude. Chevron injects steam to heat the crude, 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 the sun’s heat instead of natural gas to generate steam. Throughout the course of the day, the mirrors track the sun and reflect its rays to a receiver positioned on a solar tower. The tower uses the heat to produce steam. The solar demonstration generates about the same amount of steam as one gas-fired steam generator.