Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Solar Steam Used for Enhanced Oil Recovery in California

Chevron, the second-largest U.S. oil company, began extracting crude oil from a Southern California field using steam produced by a 29-megawatt solar- thermal power plant.

BrightSource Energy's system uses mirrors to focus sunlight on a boiler at Chevron's Coalinga enhanced oil recovery project, the Oakland-based solar company said in a statement after extraction began Monday.

..."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 President Desmond King said Monday in a company statement. The project generates about the same amount of steam as one gas-fired steam generator, Chevron said. _MercuryNews

Video via GigaOm
Enhanced oil recovery sends a liquid or gas (in this case, steam) into an oil reservoir, thereby lowering the oil's viscosity and allowing more oil to be pumped out. The global market for EOR, according to SBI, is estimated at nearly $62.5 billion (for barrels of crude oil) for 2009. BCC Research estimates the global market for EOR technologies as $4.7 billion in 2009, due to grow to $16.3 billion in 2014.

EOR using CO2 is also being considered as a method to sequester carbon in the ground.

Chevron’s Coalinga field started pumping in the 1890s and, like many of the world's oil fields, is experiencing a decline in oil production. EOR can reverse this trend. The steam used at the Coalinga field and most EOR sites is usually generated by burning natural gas in a gas-fired steam generator. Typical sizes for those generators units are 23 MMBTU/hr or 62.5 MMBTU/hr -- and they are used in large numbers.

So although this is a relatively small-scale project, it proves the concept at scale and does so without the prospect of future fuel costs. Solar EOR doesn't exactly save the planet, but it can increase domestic oil production and keep jobs in the U.S.

The Coalinga site sits on 100 acres and uses 3,822 heliostats that are focused on a boiler sitting on top of a 327-foot-tall solar tower. _GreenTechMedia

Solar heat and steam production are generally quite expensive, and would typically only be used if cheap fuels such as natural gas were unavailable. But solar steam should be considered as an alternative, for steam needs in particular situations.

The amount of oil potentially recoverable via EOR measures in the billions of barrels.

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