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GlassPoint Solar uses the sun's heat to extract oil

February 24, 2011 |  7:26 pm

GlassPoint 21Z_6 The solar industry is usually on the oil industry’s case -- sniping about dirty energy and whatnot -- but the two sides came together Thursday in an unlikely alliance.

Fremont-based company GlassPoint Solar unveiled a demonstration facility that uses solar technology to coax petroleum out of an old oil field in Kern County.

In a process that usually involves heated natural gas, the sun will heat water to create 750-degree-Fahrenheit steam, which will seep into the underground rock. There, it will reduce the viscosity of the thick crude oil stubbornly residing in the well.

GlassPoint claims that its pilot plant is the only solar oil removal mechanism. Roughly 40% of the oil drawn out in the state relies on the natural gas method. The company claims that it could eventually take over 80% of that burden -- and at cheaper rates, even though natural gas prices are currently low.

The facility, which took less than seven weeks to build, sits on less than an acre. GlassPoint erected a glass greenhouse over reflective troughs -- made with lightweight aluminum foil like the type used for soda cans -- that concentrate sunlight to make steam.

The technology, GlassPoint says, could eventually be used in oil fields in the Middle East. In Fresno County, BrightSource Energy is already working on a similar project set to wrap up this year.

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-- Tiffany Hsu

Photo: GlassPoint

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