By San Francisco Business Times

Chevron Corp. is testing a way to use solar power to increase oil production.

The San Ramon company (NYSE: CVX) has built a test project in Coalinga where the sun heats steam thatâ¿¿s pumped into underground oil reservoirs.

Chevron Technology Ventures funded the project, built by BrightSource Energy Inc. of Oakland, which uses 7,600 mirrors to focus solar heat onto a boiler. Water boiled into steam is then injected into the oil reservoir underground to increase the amount of oil recovered.

Typically, Chevron and other oil companies use natural gas from oil wells to heat steam that is used to help squeeze more oil out. Gas is often abundant at oil recovery sites, and itâ¿¿s a cheap way to quickly heat lots of steam.

But Chevron wants to test this newfangled idea for use in places where natural gas isnâ¿¿t cheap, or where it isnâ¿¿t available.

Oil has been produced at the Coalinga Field since the 1890s. Crude there is heavy and harder to get out of the ground than other light crudes, so steam is injected to reduce its viscosity.

The 7,600 mirrors at the Coalinga test project track the sun as the earth rotates and focus its light on a tower. The single boiler produces about the same amount of steam as one gas-fired steam boiler.

Watch a video about the project here.

Copyright 2011 American City Business Journals
Copyright 2010