Chevron launches world’s largest solar enhanced-oil-recovery project

Chevron Technology Ventures 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. 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."

Chevron Technology Ventures is a division of Chevron U.S.A. Inc. that identifies, evaluates and demonstrates emerging technologies.

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's solar-to-steam project uses over 7,600 mirrors to focus the sun's energy onto a 100m tall solar tower to generate steam for enhanced oil recovery. 

Chevron’s solar-to-steam project uses over 7,600 mirrors to focus the sun’s energy onto a 100m tall solar tower to generate steam for enhanced oil recovery. (Photo: Business Wire)

"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."

Chevron contracted BrightSource Energy as the technology provider and for engineering, procurement and construction. The project will be operated by Chevron Technology Ventures.

The solar-to-steam demonstration project is made up of 3,822 mirror systems, or heliostats, each consisting of two 10- by 7-foot (3m by 2.1m) mirrors mounted to a 6-foot (1.8m) steel pole. There are 7,644 mirrors in total focused on a 327-foot-tall (100m) solar tower.

The project covers 100 acres (0.4 sq km), with mirrors covering 65 acres (0.26 sq km) and 35 acres (0.14 sq km) devoted to support facilities.

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