Steam From Solar Helps Extract Oil

by | May 28, 2013

Glasspoint CSP glasshouseGlasspoint Solar is working with Petroleum Development Oman, using its solar powered steam generators to heat water to boiling point and inject the resulting steam deep underground into thermal enhanced oil recovery operations, to loosen up and push out crude oil in PDO’s Amal West field in Southern Oman.

Construction on the 7MW oil recovery project was completed in December 2012 and it came online this year. Since then, the pilot project has produced steam 10 percent in excess of its contract, says Glasspoint.

Aging or played out oil wells typically hold 30 percent of their potential in heavy oil, but this oil can not be recovered by drilling or pumping, which leaves the option of steaming.

The process of steaming oil from underground is not new – oil companies have been using steam for decades – but they typically burned natural gas to boil the water, not solar power. Despite the abundance of natural gas, it is not cheap and can cost oil companies billions of dollars a year to produce this steam, Forbes magazine reports.

Glasspoint says its solar technology can lower those costs and emissions while expanding the life of aging oil fields, which has been economically and sustainably feasible for PDO to develop heavy oil for Oman, and allowed it to divert valuable natural gas to other gas-dependent industries. PDO, primarily owned by the Oman government and Shell Group, accounts for 70 percent of Oman’s crude oil production and most of its natural gas.

Oil recovery projects consume a big portion of Oman’s natural gas and Glasspoint’s technology has enabled PDO to reduce natural gas usage by 80 percent, freeing the resource for power generation, desalination and exports as liquified natural gas, the company says.

Its enclosed trough design uses parabolic mirrors inside a glasshouse structure, protecting the solar collectors from the harsh conditions of high wind, dust, dirt, sand and humidity common to Middle East oilfields. The glasshouse enclosure enables the use of ultra-light, low-cost reflective materials and automated robotic washers that clean the roof at night. GlassPoint says its steam generators are designed to use the same low-quality boiler water as the standard once-through steam generators, negating the need for costly water pretreatment, a concern in desert areas.

Brightsource Energy also uses concentrating solar thermal technology to produce steam for the power and petroleum markets and is in the process of completing the 392 MW Ivanpah project in California’s Mojave Desert.

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