Solar-Thermal Oil Extraction

Written By Brianna Panzica

Posted October 3, 2011

Chevron Corporation (NYSE: CVX) unveiled their latest venture on Monday – a new twist on an oil extraction process involving a BrightSource Energy design.

Chevron has long been involved in the Coalinga, California oil field, where the heavy crude is difficult to extract due to its thick properties

The oil field has been in operation since the 1890s, making it one of the oldest in America, says Market Watch.

In order to extract the oil, the article reports, it is necessary to pump steam down under the reservoir to heat up and thin out the oil, making it easier to move and extract.

And burning natural gas was the way to create the steam – until now.

BrightSource and Chevron have teamed up to build a 29-megawatt solar thermal power plant that generates steam using heliostats, or tracking mirrors.

Stretched out over a 100-acre field in southern California are 3,822 of these heliostats, says Market Watch, each with two mirrors directed toward a 327-foot tower.

At the top of this tower is a giant boiler in which water is heated by the sun.  The steam from the boiler is then pumped underground to heat the oil.

And as Market Watch reports, the system conserves the water as well by cooling the steam and pumping the water back through.

This enhanced oil recovery (EOR) project could revolutionize the way heavy crude is recovered.

According to Market Watch, only 10% to 30% of heavy crude is generally extracted from reservoirs such as these by conventional methods. 

The article reports that by 2014, the enhanced oil recovery market could be worth $16.3 billion, a large growth from the 2009 rate of $4.7 billion.

As Bruce Johnsons, the vice president of Chevron’s San Joaquin Valley unit, told Market Watch:

“Our region has a long history of pioneering innovative technologies. 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.” 

Construction on the venture started in 2009, and operations began on Monday. If the process takes off, both companies are set to benefit.

BrightSource Energy filed for IPO earlier this year.

That’s all for now,


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