A California company has developed a method that uses solar-powered steam to coax oil from the earth, an innovation they say is cleaner and cheaper than using natural gas to generate the steam.
At its pilot plant in Kern County, GlassPoint Solar uses a row of foil mirrors inside a greenhouse to concentrate solar heat on pipes that generate about 1 million BTUs of steam per hour.
When replicated on a larger scale, the company predicts that the process — which then floods underground rock with steam to release oil trapped beneath — could replace 80 percent of the natural gas needed to extract a barrel of oil. Currently, about 9 percent of natural gas use in Kern County goes to produce steam for oil extraction.
Whether the Fremont-based GlassPoint can begin widely deploying the solar-powered method of extracting oil is unclear; the company has had three different business strategies in the last two years, according to a report in the New York Times.
Article appearing courtesy Yale Environment 360.