Solar-Powered Oil Recovery

Brian Hicks

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted December 19, 2012

Increasingly—and perhaps in an attempt to gain favor with vociferously critical environmental groups—Big Oil is seeking out ways to incorporate green technology into their unending quest for black gold.

Last week was no exception. reports that Royal Dutch Shell Co. (LON: RDSA) and Rockport Capital, along with some other companies, put $26 million into Californian company GlassPoint Solar Inc.

GlassPoint makes the Enclosed Trough Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) enhanced oil recovery (EOR) process—a technology that harnesses solar power to tap into so-called “played-out” and extract heavy oil that simply cannot be harvested by conventional methods.

Enhanced oil recovery methods already exist. Most often, a company would use natural gas to boil water and then flood the well with pressurized steam, thus making the heavy crude a bit more fluid.

But using solar EOR instead of natural gas could produce up to 16 percent more oil while completely cutting out fuel costs. No wonder Big Oil’s very interested.

It should be noted that this concept isn’t GlassPoint’s, nor is it very new. ARCO developed the technology back in the 1980s, though in its original form, it didn’t help cut costs.

More recently, BrightSource Energy developed it further and put it into service for Chevron (NYSE: CVX) in the Coalinga oil field. The project—at a cost of $67.3 million to BSE—got seriously underway just last year.

GlassPoint now has a 300 kW EOR project underway in California’s Kern County, and another project is in development at an oil field just south of Oman. GlassPoint also has its eyes on Kuwait and Bahrain.

It looks increasingly like clean-tech and Big Oil could become uneasy partners of convenience.


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