Can solar energy and heavy oil be used together?
The two energy sources are considered by many to be at opposite ends of the “green” spectrum.
Yet Chevron has a new technology in demonstration phase where solar replaces natural gas to heat heavy oil so it flows better.
The project concentrates the rays of the sun using 7,600 mirrors and sends the energy into a solar boiler. The resulting steam is utilized in oil reservoirs to boost oil production. Chevron's project is the largest solar conversion operation in the world.
The Coalinga Field, which has been producing since the 1890s, is an example of an area that could benefit from utilizing steam injections. The heavy crude oil produced at the field has a high viscosity, which makes extraction more difficult. Chevron's equipment eases this process by injecting steam into oil reservoirs to raise the temperature of the crude, which in turns makes it flow more readily.
Now, the steam that is used at this field is created by burning natural gas. The new project will assist the current natural-gas-based steam generators and help to determine whether or not the new solar technology is commercially viable.
"Through this demonstration, we want to determine the feasibility of using solar power for enhanced oil recovery," Desmond King, president of Chevron Technology Ventures, said in the statement.